Checking the Bees at the Science Center of Iowa

Last fall, we pulled the bees out of the observation hive at the Science Center of Iowa and put them into a nuc. We hoped this would help them survive winter.

Here I am pulling out a frame to inspect it.



The hive was pretty small. We expected this because they had been kept in an observation hive all summer.



Bethany also helped inspect the hive. We fed them both sugar syrup and pollen patty during the fall to help them build up.



Abigail

Preparing for Winter

One of the most important aspect of beekeeping is preparing for winter. Winter prep starts in September almost immediately after honey is harvested. We checked our hives for varroa mites last September. Varroa mites are parasitic mites that feed on the bees fat body. Most beekeepers treat the bees to kill the varroa mites. After we knew how many varroa mites were in the hive, we treated for mites with Apiguard.

In this picture, Bethany and I are evaluating our hives winter stores.



Bethany’s hive had a ton of stored honey. My hive had quite a bit, but not as much as Bethany.



Mom and Olivia prepared the hives at our home for winter. They treated the hives and checked their honey stores.



Here are Olivia and Mom inspecting Maylyn Sorority.



This nuc continued to become weaker and weaker over the fall.



Mom and Olivia put dry mop pads in the hive to treat for small hive beetles. Small hive beetles are little bugs that eat the pollen in the hive. If the hive is weak, small hive beetles can definitely kill the hive.



Abigail

Sometimes There Is Nothing You Can Do

We try to inspect our hives every week to every other week in the spring in summer. Unfortunately, sometimes something awful happens to the bees during a week and there is no way to fix it.

Here I am closing up Mom’s hive. Mom’s hive is doing wonderful. The rest of the nucs at our house were not doing so great.



Here I am inspecting the nuc up by the garage. The nuc had no bees left in it. The bees had not raised a viable queen so they died.



There wasn’t even a handful of bees left in the nuc. We froze the frames to prevent bugs from moving in and put the nuc box away in the garage.



This nuc died due to queen failure which was probably in part due to small hive beetles and the time of year (late August).

Abigail

Removing Supers from the Squash Hives

Around the beginning to middle of August in Iowa, the nectar flow was coming to an end. Right after the honey flow is over you take off your honey supers and start treating the bees. All treatments take a certain amount of time to be completed and most need to be done in a certain temperature.

First we looked through our supers to see if there was any honey to harvest. We worked as a team going through one hive at a time so it would be easier to clear all the bees off any frames we would want to harvest.



We also carefully examined the frames to make sure that the frames had no brood on them. If they did have brood on them, we would have to decide whether to keep the frames in the boxes and either wait to treat the bees or treat the frames and not use them for honey or we could take the frames out and kill the brood.



Abigail (wearing the orange gloves) Is taking off burr comb. While Bethany is scraping off cross comb. Burr comb is comb built where the beekeeper does not want it. Cross comb is comb that is built the wrong way on the frame.



We decided to wait another week to hope for a late honey flow. Here Abigail is picking up her supper boxes and looking to see if there are any honey frames.



Abigail is now looking for eggs or her queen in the hives deep box.



Bethany is making sure her frames are spaced properly. After you have drawn out super frames, you keep nine frames in the super rather then the usual ten.



Sometimes the honey flow is early or late depending on the year and nectar sources. As a beekeeper, you try to keep ahead of it. Unfortunately, last years honey flow was late and we were unable to harvest any honey.

Bethany

A Second Year of Beekeeping in Review – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Beekeeping is a roller coaster of good, bad, and, honestly, ugly experiences. Some years are perfect! Others, not so much. Last year had a lot of learning experiences despite some of the challenges we faced.

Note: All the links throughout this post go to our blog posts on each topic.

The Good

At the beginning of 2019, we had four hives come out of winter. Last year, we expanded to a second location. We placed two hives on a distant neighbors property. The bees at the second location did well. Mom’s hive survived summer. All three hives went into winter strong.



One of the highlights for me was being the Central Iowa Honey Queen. I was able to give twenty-four presentations and attend fourteen events. As always the Iowa State Fair is a highlight of our year. Bethany, Miriam, Olivia, and I volunteered at the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s booth at the State Fair. I was able to give presentations and assist other queens with presentation during the Iowa State Fair. We also entered in many of the apiary categories.



At the end of the year, I was crowned the 2020 Iowa Honey Queen.



The Bad

We had a very rough year last year. Between a wet spring, small hive beetles, and European Foulbrood, we lost two hives and many nucs. We even had hives abscond on us.



Because of the many challenges we faced, we were unable to harvest any honey.

This year, we will be feeding the bees to help prevent disease. We have also been using swiffer pads to try to get rid of small hive beetles.

The Ugly

The worst part of last year was when the state apiarist confirmed that my hive had European Foulbrood. We, unfortunately, were not able to save the bees.



Cleaning up after EFB was pretty gross. We ended up throwing away many of the frames.



Summary

Spring and summer were hard for us since many of our hives died. We missed not getting honey. We did learn a lot about beekeeping throughout the year. We hope to have a better year this year.

I enjoyed being the Central Iowa Honey Queen. I am excited to be the Iowa Honey Queen and have used many of the things I learned as Central Iowa Honey Queen.

Abigail

Hive Inspection August 10th

On August 10th, we inspected all of our backyard bees. At the beginning of the inspection, we had two nucs, a full hive with one super, and a swarm trap that caught an abscond.

In this picture, Mom is inspecting her hive and I am checking the nuc of bees we combined. Mom’s hive did not fill its super with honey. We think they were not strong enough to do so because we took brood frames from the hive in early spring to help our other hives.



The nuc combined well, but was still incredibly weak.



Our swarm trap at our house caught Olivia’s hive that absconded. When a hive absconds, they leave their home because of poor conditions. After it was in the swarm trap for about a week, we put it in a nuc.



Olivia’s hive likely absconded due to the small hive beetles that were in their hive.



I only moved the frames the bees were actually on into the nuc.



We gave the nuc other drawn out comb.



We were hopeful that Mom’s hive would do well over the winter. The nucs needed to grow significantly before they had a chance of winter survival.

Abigail

Combining Two Nucs

In August, we combined two weak nucs. We combined the hives to give them a better chance of surviving the winter.

This is one of the splits that we combined. It was weak because of small hive beetles that overran the hive.



Here are the bees trying to crawl through the opening after we combined the hive. Eventually all the bees orientated to the new hive.



We gave them an upper entrance as well so that the upper box bees would not get too confused.



The newspaper helps prevent the bees from fighting each other. By the time the bees chewed through the newspaper, the bees are used to each other.



The bees got used to each other quickly. They did not grow well, however. More to come in a future blog post.

Abigail

July 30th Squash Hive Check

July is right in the middle of the honey flow and in beekeeping you want to stay ahead of the flow by adding plenty of suppers. You also do not want to get to far ahead where you add to many boxes making it harder for the bees protect from pests.

Here is Abigail and Bethany starting to open there hive boxes. Notice the sunflower in the corner! Bees love sunflowers.



From above you can see which frames are starting to get honey and which aren’t. If the frames do not have honey, we move to the next box which is what Bethany is doing. Abigail is pulling out frames from her top box.



Here Bethany is looking at a honey frame that possibly has brood or pollen on it. Abigail is moving her box over to the outer cover.



Bethany and Abigail are looking at frames from the brood box.



In the flower below you can see a squash bee in a squash blossom!



This is another squash bee on a flower blossom.


It was fun to see our bee hives growing! It was fun to see different bees on many blooming flowers.

Bethany

Adding a Queen to the Science Center of Iowa’s Observation Hive

In 2019, the Science Center of Iowa started a honey bee exhibit. The exhibit started out with one observation hive. Because beekeeping is such a specialized skill, the Science Center wanted to have a volunteer beekeeper to work with the bees. Mom and I are the main volunteer beekeepers for the Science Center, but Bethany and Olivia often help.

When I first visually inspected the observation hive, I noticed that they were queenless. The Science Center employ in charge of the exhibit ordered a new queen and we installed her in late July. In the picture below, we are deciding where to put the queen cage.



Here I am pressing the queen cage into the bottom frame where most of the bees are. I was careful to make sure she could still get out.



The worker bees quickly smelled the queen’s pheromones and started accepting her.



We closed the observation hive. The bees on top of the cage had to move out of the way.



The bees accepted this queen and started building up for winter. It was interesting working with an observation hive.

Abigail

Petting an “Swarm”

In July, one of our hives absconded from their home. When honey bees abscond, they have decided their old home is unsatisfactory and will go find a new one. Unfortunately when you catch an abscond it often will just abscond again.

We considered catching this abscond, but the wire on the post they choose to land on would have made it difficult.



Absconds, like swarms, are very gentle and can be touched. Mom still suited up and wore gloves to pet them.



Bethany petted the swarm with her bare hand.



I also petted the abscond. I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by.



Our five year old brother fearlessly petted the swarm. We were not surprised as he often stands less then two feet from a hive entrance to observe the bees.



Our other younger brother also petted the swarm after the littlest one did.



In this picture you can see the queen bee separating herself from the cluster of bees. Her attendant bees followed her to take care of her.



Can you spot the queen in this picture? She returned to her cluster and allowed the bees to cover her.



Below is a video we took of the abscond. Click on the image to watch it. Enjoy the random commentary.

MVI_1832

The abscond found a home somewhere other then our equipment. We decided to let the bees decide where their new home would be because they were an abscond not a swarm.

Abigail