April 2019 Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers Meeting

The Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers April 2019 meeting was about swarms. Doyle Kincy was the special speaker. Swarming is how a hive naturally reproduces. Half of the bees in the hive leave the hive with the old queen and find a new home. The other half raise a new queen.

2017 was an early spring in Iowa. A lot of beekeepers were caught off guard. 2018 was the opposite. It was a very cold winter, but it quickly warmed up.

Swarm prevention starts in spring with spring maintenance. We blogged about our Spring Hive Clean Up. A beekeeper should clean the bottom board, check how solid the foundation of the hive is, reverse the deeps, and equalize (give smaller hives brood or switch hives so that foragers return to the weaker hive). When reversing, two of the brood frames from the new bottom box should be put in the new top box so that the bees move up. When the first nectar flow begins, two supers with drawn comb should be put on top of every hive that has two deeps. This will prevent the bees from being overcrowded. Another way to relieve congestion is by putting upper entrances in every two supers.

What causes swarms? The three main triggers that cause swarming are congestion and overcrowding, backfilling of the brood boxes, and queen failure. Feeding may cause swarming. Congestion and overcrowding is when the hive is too full of bees or there are not enough entrances for the bees. The bees swarm so that they have more space. Backfilling of the brood boxes is when the bees fill in former brood cells with nectar. This is often a result of the bees not having enough drawn empty combs. The queen can cause swarming if her pheromones are not being distributed throughout the hive. Feeding may cause swarms because it may cause any of the above factors.

Beekeepers will use swarm traps to catch swarms. This is not stealing (as we often get asked) because swarms will leave hives no matter what and there is absolutely no way of telling whose bees swarmed. Two or three frames of comb should be put in a swarm trap. Propolis and beeswax should be rubbed all over the trap. A few drops of lemongrass oil should be put on cotton balls. The cotton balls should then be places in a ziplock bag and put on the bottom of the box. All these things attract honey bees to the trap. Traps should be taken down at the end of June as other creatures may try to move in.


A swarm trap we put up last year.

If bees are bringing pollen into a trap a swarm has moved in. A beekeeper should wait a few weeks before moving the trap into a hive. Ideally, the swarm should be moved three miles away from where it was found, but if it cannot be moved that far, a shim can be placed slightly in front of the entrance. Swarms should be treated with a small dose of oxalic acid after they are moved into a deep.

Swarms are really cool and we are hoping to catch one this year.


Great Pictures from April!

Because we have a blog, we take pictures to help us communicate what we are talking about. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see tons of adorable bees?

On this particular day Olivia and mom had finished checking their hives so Olivia volunteered to take pictures for us. Let me tell you Olivia is pretty good around the camera.

Here is our smoker, you can see the dark spot in the middle that shows that we use it.


A picture of our cluttered work area.


A gorgeous frame of brood.


Bethany starting to pull a frame of brood out.


Lots of Bees!


Scooting frames.


Two of out hives with the smoker.


While we are in the hives we have a handful of people take pictures for us it is really helpful to us and I want to thank them. A big thanks to Dad, Miriam, Olivia, and anyone else who gets stuck taking pictures.

We are truly blessed to have such helpful family members!


Abigail’s April 2019 4-H Presentation

Abigail gave a presentation on beeswax and its uses at her April 4-H meeting. She showed some of the products that we make and sell. Here is her presentation.

What is beeswax? Are there different kinds of beeswax and if so, what are they? Does beeswax need to be cleaned? What can be done with beeswax and are there any health benefits that come with using beeswax? I will be answering all of these questions today.

What is beeswax? Beeswax is honey that the bees have changed into beeswax. Only worker bees produce beeswax. Honey bees eat the honey then a special gland in her body changes the honey into beeswax. The beeswax is then secreted through the wax gland. It takes between eight and ten pounds of honey to make one pound of beeswax. One worker bee makes about 1/12 a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. Can you imagine how many bees it takes to make one pound of beeswax! Beeswax is used to create hexagonal shaped cells that the bees fill with honey, pollen, or brood or to cap honey and brood.

Are there different kinds of beeswax and if so, what are they? Beeswax is always beeswax. There are, however, different types of comb. Comb is beeswax when it is within the hive. The three types of comb that a beekeeper removes from the hive are burr comb, brood comb, and wax cappings. Beeswax is scraped from the hive by a beekeeper when it is in the beekeepers way. Burr comb is comb that the bees built where the beekeeper does not want it. Burr comb is often a deep yellow color. Burr comb is used to make candles. It is not used for cosmetics because it may have come in contact with treatments the beekeeper used to treat the hive for pests and diseases. Brood comb is comb that has had brood in it. Brood comb is usually very dark almost brown. Beekeepers get this comb when they remove a brood frame from the hive. This wax can be used for candles as long as it has a pleasant scent. A beekeeper may use brood comb to rub the inside of new equipment or as a smoker starter. Brood comb is not incredibly useful. When a beekeeper harvests honey, the wax cappings are cut off the honey cells. Honey cappings are the comb that the bees put over honey to keep it pure and at a perfect moisture content. Honey cappings are white or light yellow. Honey cappings are the finest beeswax and are used in cosmetics because it is free of chemicals.

Does beeswax need to be cleaned? Beeswax goes through a cleaning process called rendering before it can be used in products. Rendering is the process of purifying beeswax by melting it down and filtering it. Rendering wax can be done multiple ways. One must be careful when rendering because beeswax is very flammable. Beeswax should never be melted directly over heat and should never be left unattended. One way to render wax is to use a solar melter. A solar melter uses the suns rays to melt beeswax. The liquid beeswax then drips into a separate container through a screen leaving the impurities behind in the first container. Another way to render beeswax is to use a double boiler system. A pan of water is on the bottom with a pan to hold wax on top of it. A filter, sometimes paper towels or fabric, is attached to the top pan. The wax is either poured over the filter or left on top of the filter to melt. We render wax using a crock-pot. We put a crock-pot liner in the crock-pot then pour some water in it. Since beeswax is less dense than water, the beeswax will float. We then tie an old t-shirt to the crock-pot. We place the wax on top of the crock-pot then turn the crock-pot on low. The shirt removes the impurities while letting the wax melt through.

What can beeswax be used for and are there any health benefits that come with using beeswax? Beeswax can be used to make candles, lip balms, lotions, or it can be used as a lubricant, or a wood sealer. When beeswax is burned it cleans the air. This quality makes beeswax candles great for homes especially homes that have asthma suffers living in it. Beeswax is a sealer. It allows skin to breathe will keeping moisture in. Beeswax based lip balms and lotions help moisturize the skin. Beeswax is much better than petroleum jelly when it comes to cosmetics. Petroleum jelly is a byproduct of oil. Other petroleum byproducts are diesel, gasoline, and plastic. Petroleum jelly does not allow the skin to breathe which actually causes dry skin. Beeswax is an excellent lubricant for zippers. Beeswax will help a stuck zipper zip easy. Beeswax seals wood which helps prevent wood from cracking. Rubbing beeswax on wooden cutting boards helps make the cutting boards last longer. The health benefits of beeswax are it burns clean, moisturizes the skill, and allows the skin to breathe while it seals in moisture.

Beeswax is a product naturally found in beehives that is created by special glands only in worker bees. Beeswax must be rendered before being made into any product and there are quite a few ways to render it. There are many uses for beeswax. Beeswax is a moisturizer that allows the skin to breathe and burns clean. Beeswax is truly amazing.

For more information go to our blog DasselAcres.com or check out books from your local library.



Spring Hive Clean Up!

Cleaning up your hives in the spring is an essential part of beekeeping. Its also a chance to get a feel of how your hive(s) are doing. A beekeeper will take off his winter gear and put it into storage. A beekeeper will clean and autopsy dead outs. A beekeeper will clean out bottom board and other equipment before inventorying his equipment. Lastly, the brood boxes should be switched.

For us we had one dead out, Lakti. We cleaned that up, however, we do not have pictures of the clean up.

Here are Mom and Olivia going into Olivia’s hive looking to see what’s going on and where the bees are clustering.


Olivia looking at a frame full of bees.


Here Abigail is smoking the hive while Bethany is looking at a frame in her hive.


Abigail and Bethany taking turns pulling out frames.


Abigail looking at a frame while Bethany is putting hers back.


Abigail separating the box from the bottom board. Bethany is ready to move the box.


Abigail pulling the entrance reducer off the bottom board.


Abigail and Bethany cleaning the bottom board off. Sugar, dead bees, and wood chip pieces that collected over the winter were on it.


Look at all the sugar and assorted other things flying off the bottom board.


Abigail re-leveling the bricks.


Bethany carefully laying down the box that was originally on the top. We do this so the bee cluster will work up again.


We added the box that was on the bottom to the top. Then we were done.


Spring clean up for five hives (including the dead out) is long work, but is essentially to keeping the bees healthy and equipment clean.


CIBA March 2019 Meeting

For their March 2019 meeting, the Central Iowa Beekeepers Association had Dr. Judy Wu-Smart from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln speak on Troubleshooting Queen Failure.

Before the meeting, Abigail interviewed for the position of the CIBA Honey Queen.


Olivia and Elianna helped set up the drinks.


Abigail introduced herself to the CIBA members.


Dr. Wu-Smart shared about how to Troubleshoot Queen Failure.

First, she explained a little bit about the queen’s biology and function. It takes a queen sixteen days to develop from an egg to an adult. She takes one to two orientation flights once she has emerged. She takes one to five mating flights and will mate with seven to seventeen drones. A queen can lay 1500 eggs a day. She lives up between two to four years. However, beekeepers will sometimes pinch (kill) a queen if they do not like her or if she is failing.

Some common problems concerning queens are poorly mated queens, genetics, age, pesticide exposure, viruses, poor attendants, low pollen, beekeeping error, and managements practices. Poor mating can be caused by bad weather. Bad weather prevents the queen from being able to mate when she needs to be mated. Queens that mate in the early spring may not be well mated because there are not a lot of drones around in early spring. Ideally, a queen should been genetically diverse. The more diverse the genetics are in a colony the more productive they are and the less susceptible to disease. Historically, queens can last two to four years, but now beekeepers tend to replace her every year. Pesticides can hurt a queen. Pesticides can reduce egg-laying and her locomotion ability. Queen can get viruses. She often gets it passed to her from workers and drones. She can transfer diseases to her offspring. Viruses can shorten a queens longevity and can lead to brood diseases. Poor attendants can lead to a poor queen because they will not take care of her. Low pollen causes the queen to have not enough protein. Beekeepers can easily kill a queen by accident. This does not happen often if the beekeeper is careful. Managements practices go with beekeeper error. Mite treatment and migratory stress can kill the queen or reduce her productivity.

Supercedure cells and emergency cells are signs of queen problems because the bees want to replace the queen. All drone brood is also a sign of a poor queen.

No or low brood may be a sign that the queen is failing. The bees may also be honey bound. (Honey bound is when the worker bees backfill the brood nest with nectar.) No or low brood may result from a lack of empty cells. Low brood may be a result of a lack of pollen. Honey bees will actually cannibalize brood when there is a lack of pollen.

Laying workers may come up when a queen is absconded. If the bees do not replace the queen quick enough, some of the worker bees may start being able to lay eggs.

How does a beekeeper tell if the queen is failing or if the colony is just having problems?

First, a beekeeper should examine the brood pattern. Is the queen laying well? Is the brood pattern spotty? If the eggs are not reaching pupation it may be the worker bees fault that the brood pattern looks poor. Spotty brood can lead to reduced care efficiency, reduced egg laying efficiency, and disruption in the thermo-regulation for brood (controlling the brood next temperature). Small, tight brood patterns are good but large, shotgun brood patterns are not good. Does the colony have brood in all stages? Are there signs of brood diseases, such as uncapped pupae, perforated pupal cells, and larvae with the wrong appearance? Is varroa mites, poor brood care or nutrition, or pesticides stressing the larvae? A varroa mite test should be done at least every spring and fall.

Are the larvae well fed? The level of brood food in the brood cells should be checked. Not well fed larvae leads to larvae mortality; spotty brood; eggs and pupae present, but very little young larvae. A beekeeper should check the pollen stores in both the hive and outside the hive. Are foragers bringing in pollen? Is there fresh pollen in the hive? Fresh pollen has a powdery appearance. Contaminated pollen is covered with propolis.

Frames should be removed from the hive every three to five years. This helps decrease the amount of disease and chemicals in the hive.

Does the hive have plenty of newly emerged adults that can be nurses. New bees are very fuzzy, light, and they have fur around the eyes.

I beekeeper should monitor for pesticide incidents. Pesticide incidents are very difficult to see. Dr. Wu-Smart is researching pesticide usages using dead bee traps. Dead bee traps are specially made boxes that when the bees throw out dead bees the dead bees fall into them and can be counted. Pesticide incidents should be reported to a state agent. State agents look for high mortality in short periods of time.

A beekeeper should also monitor the landscape. What is currently in bloom?

A beekeeper may choose to replace a queen. There is no good rule of thumb for replacing a queen. Often the bees will know when to replace a queen.

Depending on the situation, a failing queen may be due to the colony’s health, not the queen’s health.

CIBA honored John Johnson, a former CIBA president, at the March meeting. Look at this lovely cake a CIBA member made.


Olivia found a queen at the March meeting!


After the queen committee deliberated, Abigail was crowned the 2019 Central Iowa Beekeeper’s Honey Queen! Congratulations, Abigail! She has enjoyed being queen so far and is looking forward to some of her upcoming presentations. To remain updated on Abigail’s activities as queen, like the CIBA Honey Queen Program page on Facebook.


Keri Kenoyer, the vice president of the Iowa Honey Producers Association, crowned Abigail.


The 2019 CIBA Honey Queen Abigail.


The March meeting was excellent. Dr. Wu-Smart was an excellent speaker. We enjoyed talking with beekeepers and voting in the business meeting.


Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers March 2019 Meeting

The Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers March 2019 meeting was about creating habitat for pollinators. Kelsey Fleming from Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever spoke on making prairie plots.

Diverse native habitat is so important because it benefits water quality, soil, and wildlife. Pollinators are so important because 75% of flowering plants depend on pollination, 100+ crops are pollinated by animals and insects, and birds eat insects.

Honey bees came to the U.S. in the 1600s. Thousands of honey bees are now moved across the U.S. for pollination.

There are over four thousand native bee species in the United States. Native Bees are incredibly important to pollination. Characteristics of native bees vary. Some native bees nest in the ground others nest in hollow trees. Some native bees are active from April to October whereas other native bees are only active for a few weeks. A few species of native bees only forage on specific plants. Other native bees will forage on anything they can find.

There are seven hundred native butterflies. Butterflies are iconic and popular. Butterflies are pollinators, but are not as good as bees. The number of a butterflies in an environment is an indicator of the environment’s health. Everyone has heard of monarch butterflies and their migration. Common milkweed and butterfly milkweed are good for monarchs. Milkweed does not usually bloom its first year.

Other types of pollinators are wasps, birds, and moths.

The number of pollinators has decreased recently partially due to pests and diseases. The number of non-native pests has increased recently (e.g. varroa mites). Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides have been linked to the decrease in pollinators. Loss of prairies has caused the decline of native pollinators because it is becoming significantly harder for native pollinators to find food. Mowing of road ditches is an example of the decline of native plants. Mono culture has caused a decline in pollinator habitat. Because residential properties are often mostly grass, it has become harder for pollinators to find food in the city.

What can we do to help? Anyone can create habitat for pollinators. Any amount of habitat helps. An ideal pollinator habitat has flowers in bloom from April to October and diverse plant types. We can help pollinators out by not using pesticides. Bare ground allows for ground nesting bees to build homes.

Pollinator habitat benefits not only honey bees, but also butterflies, wasps , birds, moths, animals, water, and soil.


Beekeeping 101: Week Five

Week Five of Beekeeping 101 was a wrap up week.

A varroa mite count should be done in July or August. Three mites to three hundred bees is the common threshold. A mite kit is essential for beekeepers. Mite kits include a jar, powdered sugar, ether, or rubbing alcohol, and something white such as a bucket or a big lid to dump the bees onto. A mite roll is when about half a cup of bees are poured into a jar with powdered sugar, ether, or rubbing alcohol. Then the jar is covered and shook hard. Finally, the bees are poured out on something white and the beekeeper can count the mites.

From time to time a beekeeper will move a hive. Before a hive is moved, the beekeeper should walk the terrain he will be walking when he moves the hive. A hive should be moved at night when the foragers are in for the night. A screen should be stapled in front of the hive entrance. The hive should be ratchet strapped to ensure the hive stays together.

Winter preparations should start in July and August. Good, healthy, clean, fat, strong bees is the goal of winter prep. Mouse guards should be put on the hives when the night temperatures start to get cool. The hives should have a wind break during the winter. Some beekeepers choose to feed their bees in the fall. We fed our bees and put dry sugar on top of the hive as emergency stores. A beekeeper may choose to insulate or wrap a hive for winter. A hive should be mountain camped (have dry sugar on top) by early December. Hives should be quickly checked on warm weather days throughout the winter.

In spring, surviving hives’ boxes should be unwinterized. Their boxes should be reversed and the bottom boards should be cleaned.

Beekeeping 101 was a good reminder of what we learned in 2018. After taking the class, we were excited to get back to working with the bees.