What Have We Been Up To?

We have been super busy with beekeeping and life in general recently.  We need to upload pictures so this post will be a pictureless post.


What have we been up to?  Right now we are feeding our bees 2:1 sugar syrup about every five days.  The last batch of sugar syrup we made had two gallons of water with thirty-three pounds of sugar in it!  We have been feeding the bees so heavily because we want them to have plenty of stores for winter.  Nathan made us five quilt boxes yesterday.  We need to paint them and finish them up than put them on the hives.  The quilt boxes will reduce the amount of moisture that drips on the bees.  Abigail has been working on preparing for the IHPA conference.  She is preparing her presentation of her first year.  Abigail has made both plantain salve and lip balm recently.  We will be selling both at Our Honey Bee Store.  We are still working on labels for the lip balm.


We will have blog posts about all of the above sometime in the not too distant future.




Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers August Meeting

The Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers is a beekeeping club for Des Moines area beekeepers that meets once a month.  I really enjoy their meetings because often it is a smaller group and the meetings are more discussions than presentations.  The DMBB’s August meeting was about winter preparation.  Yes, August is when beekeepers start preparing for winter.


In August and September, hives should be treated for varroa mites.  Hives should be treated so that the bees before the winter bees treated.  This helps make the winter bees stronger bees.  Hives should be fed 2:1 sugar syrup after they have been treated for varroa mites.  Often beekeepers will put their wet supers (frames of honey in supers that have been extracted) back on the hives for the bees to take.  The supers will be placed between the inner cover and the outer cover.  The bees see this as outside their hive so they take the honey and store it in the deeps.  After the bees pull down the honey, the supers should be frozen then stored.  Some beekeepers store their supers in garbage bags, some store the supers in a freezer, and some store supers in totes.  Robbing screens should be put on hives in September or when there is not nectar readily available.


In October or November, the hive should be prepped for winter.  Entrances reducers should be put on when it gets to be about fifty degrees during the day.  In Iowa, mice often take up residence in beehives.  To prevent mice from moving in, a mouse guards can be put on.  Mouse guards are metal pieces with bee sized holes in them.  Quilt boxes can be placed on hives.  Quilt boxes are boxes that have hardware clothe for a bottom with wood chips above the hardware clothe and sometimes a clothe on top.  Quilt boxes go above the top deep and under the outer cover.  No inner cover is used with a quilt box.  Quilt boxes help prevent condensation from dripping down on the bees.  Bees do not die over winter because of cold.  Moisture is a one of the reasons bees can die during the winter.


As always, beekeepers in Iowa will do things differently from beekeepers in any other state.






Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa July Meeting

The FBI’s July meeting was about the extraction process.


One way to get bees out of a super is to use a fume board.  A fume board has felt on one side.  A smelly substance is poured on the bottom side.  The bees do not like the scent and they leave the super.  a pro to this method is it is very effective.  Cons are that you have to get in the hives twice and that you have to buy the fume board and substance.  We ended up using just bee brushes to harvest.  We shook the frames hard which got a majority of the bees off than we used the bee brush to remove the rest of the stragglers.  A pro to this method is it is cheap.  The cons are that it takes a lot of time and the bees get really irritated.


Seventy-five to eighty-five percent of the frame should be capped before the frame is harvested.  One way to test if the honey is dehydrated enough is to bang it against something (preferably not the hive) if the honey drips out it is not dehydrated enough.  If the honey does not drip out it may be ready to harvest.  The honey that is not ready to harvested can either be left in the hive for the bees to continue to work on or they can be left above the inner cover but under the outer cover.


After harvest it is important to remember that warm honey flows faster than cold honey.  We stick our supers in the car hours before we extract.  A lot of beekeepers use hot knifes to uncap their frames.  Hot knifes can scorch honey so it is important to use one carefully.  An uncapping scratcher is a very useful tool.  Honey can be strained through a 600 paint filter.  The paint filter is not food grade though although I am sure there are similar food grade products out there.  Honey can be stored in gallon or bigger buckets with lids that have a rubber seals.  Plastic wrap can be placed on top of the honey.  The foam will be removed when the plastic wrap is pulled off.


After honey is harvested, mite treatments can be put on.  First, hives can be checked to find out what the mite load is.  A mite roll is half a cup of bees in a pint jar with a couple sprays of starter fluid.  The bees will die, but so will the mites.  The jar should be shaken really well.  The shaking knocks the mites of the bees.  Next, count the mites.  However mites are counted there are that many mites per three hundred bees.  A treatment should be picked based off of the mite load.





Treatments for Varroa Mites and Small Hive Beetles

Two honey bee pests that we have had problems with this year are varroa mites and small hive beetles.  Varroa mites are parasitic mites that attach themselves to bees and small hive beetles are little beetles that live in a hive and eat the pollen, honey, and bee brood.  We have mentioned both of these pests in this blog post.


Varroa mites are a major problem in a hive.  Varroa mites can cause a lot of diseases in bees.  Some of these diseases are Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), Kashmir Bee Virus (KBV), Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV), Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV), and sacbrood.  It is important to treat for mites around August.  There are many treatments out there, but some of them are ineffective because varroa mites have built up a resistance to them.  Apiguard and Oxalic acid are two treatments that are still effective.  Apiguard is what we ended up using to treat our hives.  Apiguard is a product that has thymol in it.  Apiguard is a gel that is put on top of the hive.  The bees remove the gel and by removing it spread it around the hive.  By doing this they kill some varroa mites.  Oxalic acid is naturally found in rhubarb.  Oxalic acid can either be vaporized directly into the hive or mixed with water then dripped onto the bees.  A lot of Iowa beekeepers treat with one treatment in the fall then treat with oxalic acid in the winter.


Small hive beetles have not been a problem in Iowa for a long time.  However, this year a lot more Iowan beekeepers have had problems with small hive beetles.  Small hive beetles have been an indication of a weak hive.  I am not sure that this is always true anymore because all of our hives had a large amount of small hive beetles in them.  Small hive beetles can weaken a hive which is why it is important to try to kill them.  We tried using hive beetle traps.  Hive beetle traps are plastic containers that holds oil.  The bees are supposed to chase the beetles into the trap.  The beetles then drown. These traps did not work well for us.  We also tried using Swiffer pads.  We used dry, unscented pads.  The beetles get trapped in the fibers and die.  The pads worked for some of our hives, but not all of them.


As always the effectiveness of any treatment will vary from hive to hive and even more from location to location.




How to Make Beeswax Candles

Beeswax is a valuable product from beehives.  One way to use beeswax is in candles.


The first step to making candles is rendering beeswax.  We blogged the rendering process here.  Candles are a great way to use dirty beeswax that cannot be used in cosmetics.


The second step to making candles is melting down rendered wax.  Wax can be melted in a liquid measuring cup.  Whatever wax is melted in will become a permanent wax tool because it is incredibly hard to remove wax from glass.  Wax can either be melted in a microwave or over a double boiler system.  I prefer melting wax using a double boiler system because the wax will not burn as easily.




While the wax is melting, the candle molds should be prepared.  The easiest way to get the wick through the mold is to thread the wick through a big sewing needle.  Next the molds should be sprayed with mold release.  Mold release is not essential, but it is useful.  The wick needs to be tied to something in order to keep it straight.  We tie our wicks to chopsticks then lie the chopsticks on cups.



This is our candle making set up.  The pint jars have napkins on top of them so that the wick will stay out of the way.  We use rubber bands or hair pretties to keep the molds together.




Once the molds are prepared and the wax is melted, the candles can be poured.  The mold should be filled two-thirds of the way than the wax should be tipped to one side.  Doing this makes the air bubbles float to the top.  The candle then should be filled all the way up.  It is important for the candle to be filled to the brim because the candle will shrink a little.




Once the top of the candle is semi-solid the bottom wick should be cut and pressed into the candle.  Doing this ensures that the candle will sit flat.


After the candle is completely cool and solid it should be removed from its mold.  This is an incredibly delicate process.  We almost always have two people removing the candle.  It is important to be careful to not smash the candle against anything when removing it from its mold.  Finally, the candles wick should be trimmed.  The proper length of a wick is an eighth of an inch long.


Here is what our finished candle looked like.  We had not trimmed the wick yet.




Here is the other candle we were making above.  Both candles turned out really well.  We sell both of these candles.  Prices and other products can be found at Our Honey Bee Store.



If a candle has a major impurity after it is pulled out of a mold, the impurity should be removed and rendered.  The pure wax can be remelted and poured again.





Extraction Day 2018

We extracted in August before the Iowa State Fair so that we could enter some of our honey into the Fair. Because we do not have an extractor and they cost a lot, we extracted with the Sanders.



Here Olivia is cutting the capping off a frame. The Sanders have a great uncapping set up. They have a five gallon bucket with a piece of wood notched so that it fits across the bucket’s circumference. On the piece of wood there is  a screw. Just a little bit of pointy side of the screw pops through the wood. The frame sits on the screw as the frame is being uncapped.




To uncap a frame, first you saw up into the cappings from about a third of the way down the frame. Then you saw down the whole frame. If the knife cannot uncap part of the frame you use a cappings scratchier to uncap the rest of the cells. It is important to uncap all the cells because if all the cells are not uncapped, all of the honey will not be extracted. Here Bethany uncaps a frame. The cappings can be used in creams and cosmetics.




The honey poured out of a honey gate on the bottom of the extractor. Abigail held the bucket in place while the extractor ran to prevent the honey from spilling. The blue green thing on the wood piece is the cappings scratchier.



Here we are after we finished our first extraction. (Left to right: Mrs. Sander, Mr. Sander, Olivia up front, Abigail, and Bethany.)




We extracted 75.4 pounds from 23 frames of honey!




We stored our honey in food grade buckets. We put plastic wrap on the honey. The foam sticks to the plastic wrap and is easy to remove. We let our honey sit for about a week to let the foam rise to the top.




It was super fun to extract with our mentors. The honey tasted really good.




Moving Bethany’s Nuc into a Deep

Sometime in July we switched Bethany’s split into a deep.



We put all five of the frames that were in the nuc in the deep and added four empty frames and a feeder. We fed them so that they would be built out enough when winter comes.



Here is Bethany smoking the entrances of all the hives and Abigail opening her hive. Notice the deep and the nuc. The nuc if leaning on the deep to encourage the bees to go into the deeps entrance.




Miriam our sister is watching from afar because she doesn’t like to go into the bees.




We moved Bethany’s hive into the nuc! Now We have five hives!



Bethany Kelly


Harvesting Honey

On July 30th, we harvested our honey. We harvested our honey the same day we were planning on extracting it.


We started the harvesting process by gathering our equipment. Bethany, Olivia, Mom, and I all completely suited up. We expected the bees to be very buzzy because we were going to steal their extra honey. We decided to just use bee brushes to remove the bees from the honey frames because we already had bee brushes and because it is the cheapest way. We were concerned that using just bee brushes would upset the bees.


Next, we opened up the hives. We decided not to smoke them because we did not want our honey to taste or smell like smoke. Bethany and I harvested the frames and brushed the bees of the frames. We then handed the frames to Mom who took them to Olivia. Olivia put them in a super that was on top of an outer cover and had an outer cover on top of it. The double outer covers system would keep the bees out of the harvested honey. Super frames should only be pulled if they are seventy to eighty percent or more capped. Only harvesting frames that are mostly capped, prevents the honey’s moisture content from being too high. Any frames that were not capped enough were left in the hives. We harvested twenty-three frames from three hives. We got the most frames from Green Gables (Abigail’s hive).


The bees got really agitated as we brushed them off the frames. However, no one was stung until Abigail started putting the last inner cover on the last hive. Abigail was the only person to be stung on this harvest day.


The next step to getting honey is extracting. We set all of the honey frames in our car so that they would be nice and hot for extraction.