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.


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.


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.


Beekeeping 101 – Week Four

Beekeeping 101 was about products of the hive, fall management, and pests and diseases.

Honey is what most people think of when they think about honey bees. Most people, however, do not know just how much work it takes to get the honey off the hive and into bottles. Honey should be removed from the hives before a mite treatment is put on. Honey is often harvest in July, August, or September. Honey should be harvested on a sunny day when most of the foragers are out. Most beekeepers will suit up completely when harvesting honey because the bees are often more aggressive. A beekeeper can use a fume board and fumigant, leaf blower, or a bee brush to remove bees from honey frames. At most, a colony should be lightly smoked. Heavily smoking the colony could cause the honey to taste or smell like smoke. All the hives’ in the apiary covers should be removed so that the bees focus on protecting their hive and not on robbing out other hives. Only fully to mostly capped honey frames should be harvested. This helps ensure that the honey’s moisture content is as close to 18% as possible. Harvested frames should be placed in an empty super that is on top of a outer cover with an outer cover over it. The two main ways to extract honey is the crush and strain method and the extraction method. The crush and strain method is simply scraping the honey comb off the frame and crushing it over a strainer. The honey goes through the strainer and the beeswax stays above the strainer. This method is cheap, but the drawn out frames are lost. The extraction method is cutting the cappings off the frame with a hot knife or a bread knife before putting the frames in the extractor. Once all the honey is removed from the frames, the frames can be put back on the hives and the bees will clean the frames up. Honey can be bottled as soon as it is extracted. Our blog post Bottling and Labeling Honey explains how we bottled and labeled our honey last year.

Comb honey is honey that is left in the comb. No extractor is needed for comb honey. The bees must build comb honey on foundationless frames. The comb honey is cut out of the frame using a special cutter. Comb honey should be extracted when the cappings are white. Yellow cappings are too hard. There is a high demand for comb honey and it sells quickly as long as a good market can be found.

Beeswax is a versatile product of the hive. Beeswax can be used to make candles, a variety of creams, and lip balms. Beeswax must be cleaned before being used for any product. A solar melter could be used to clean the wax. There are a variety of styles of solar melters. Bethany plans on making one for 4-H and we will blog about it after she has made it. We use a slow cooker with water in it to clean our wax. Here is the link to our blog post about purifying wax. A similar method to the slow cooker method can be used with a pot and a muslin bag.

Propolis can be harvested from a hive using a propolis trap. Propolis traps can be bought from some of the commercial beekeeping companies.

Pollen can also be harvested from a hive using a trap. Pollen traps are pretty easy to find and most commercial beekeeping companies sell them. A beekeeper must be careful not to leave a pollen trap on a hive to long as it can deprive the hive of pollen.

After honey is harvested, a beekeeper will begin fall work. A beekeeper should treat his colonies for varroa mites as soon as the supers are removed from the hive. Treating for varroa mites allows the bees to be as healthy as possible going into winter. Colonies should be treated with antibiotics only if they need it. Antibiotics are used to treat for AFB, EFB, and other bacterial diseases. Hives should be given plenty of time to build up for winter. Hives should weigh at least one hundred and ten pounds going into winter. Entrance reducers and mouse guards should be put on hives when the temperature starts getting cool overnight.

There are many pests and diseases that can be found within a colony. Most pests and diseases are just results of a stressed hive not being able to fight against them. All colonies have varroa mites. Varroa mites must be treated for. Colonies should be treated for varroa mites at least in the fall and in either the winter or the spring. Varroa mites will cause little damage to a hive as long as they are kept at a small number. American Foulbrood (AFB) is the worst disease a hive can get. AFB is so bad because there is no way to treat for it once a colony has it. Antibiotics can be used, but often work more as a preventative for AFB than a treatment. If a colony has AFB, at least the frames and the non-queen bees should be destroyed. European Foulbrood (EFB) is a much less destructive disease. EFB can be treated with antibiotics and nothing has to be destroyed if a colony has EFB. Small hive beetles and wax moths can take over weak hives. They both can also destroy stored wax frames if the frames were not stored properly. Tracheal mites can be a threat to a colony, but are barely talked about due to varroa mites. Tracheal mites weaken the bee they are feeding on. If a colony is heavily infected, a large amount of bees may have a shortened life span. Nosema is often found in stressed colonies. Nosema can be treated for and the colony can easily recover from it. Wasps, ants, and flies may try to rob out a colony. If the colony is strong enough, they can easily fight off these invaders. Mice occasionally find a winter home in hives. A mouse guard will prevent any mice from getting in the hive. Toads and skunks occasionally eat honey bees.

A beekeeper should assess their colonies health every time they check their colonies. If they see something that does not look right, they should research it, call out a state inspector if need be, and take the proper actions against it. Sometimes there is nothing a beekeeper can do about their bees.


Beekeeping 101: Week Three

Week three of Beekeeping 101 was partially about genetic traits.

Genetic diversity is an important aspect of having bees. Some genetic traits are gentleness versus excitability, varroa mite resistance, trachael mite resistant, resistance to diseases, population dynamics, wintering ability, proneness to swarming, the ability to ripen honey rapidly, extra white cappings, minimal use of propolis, and color. The easiest way to choose which genetic traits continue is by only splitting the hives with good genetic traits. One cannot, however, control which genetic traits the bees end up having.

Knowing how to work honey bees before getting honey bees will help prevent stings and killing excess bees or even the queen. Some beekeepers wear very little protective clothing. Most beekeepers would suggest that a new beekeeper should wear a suit with gloves and long pants the first few times he goes into a hive. After a few times inspecting, a beekeeper can decide for himself what protective gear he would like to wear. A smoker is handy to calm the bees down. One should use as little smoke as possible. The smoke should be cool, white smoke to prevent hurting the bees. Before opening a hive, one should lightly smoke the entrance. One should never block the entrance when working a hive. Slow, deliberate, confident movements will help keep the bees calm. Frames should be lifted slowly and fluidly so that the bees are not rolled. (Rolling bees is when a frames is pulled out of the hive so fast that the bees roll and die. Rolling the queen is the biggest risk.) Hive inspection should be brief but not hurried. It takes us an hour or two to check all four of our hives. Hives should be inspected every seven to ten days.

A beekeeper is looking for the queen or eggs, larvae, and capped brood when inspecting. A beekeeper is also looking for resources. (How much honey and pollen do the bees have?) A beekeeper is also looking to make sure the bees have plenty of room and that they are not planning on swarming. Swarming is the natural reproduction of a hive. Swarms are not aggressive. Beekeepers do not want their hives to swarm because they want to keep the bees that would swarm. A hive somewhere swarms every day in May. Swarms may be caused by a failing queen, a large colony in a small space, congestion in the brood nest, or lots of young bees. Swarms can be prevented by replacing the queen, by giving the bees plenty of space, and by giving the bees upper entrances. Just in case a hive does swarm, some beekeepers put up swarm traps. Swarms are attracted to the space of the swarm trap. If the beekeeper put old frames and lemongrass oil in their swarm traps, the bees may be more attracted to it.


This is a swarm trap in a tree.

A queenless colony is a hive where their queen died. The bees will often try to make a queen to replace the old queen. Sometimes the bee’s attempt to replace her fails and a laying worker appears in the hive. A laying worker is a worker bee who has developed the ability to lay eggs. What can a new beekeeper do about laying workers? They can ask for help from an experienced beekeeper. Experienced beekeepers are often more then happy to help new beekeepers. We had laying workers in a hive this year. We will explain what we did with them when we get to that blog post.

Keeping records is essential to keeping track of what is going on in one’s hives. There are apps that can be used to keep records. There are also record keeping books that the beekeeping companies sell. Some people simply use a notebook and pictures to keep records. We use a record keeping book that we bought from Kelley Beekeeping (Now part of Mann Lake.), a notebook for genetic tracking, and our blog to keep records.

Julia also talked about managing colonies for honey production and pollination.

Honey can be harvested from Non-Langstroth hives, but because Langstroth hives are often the hive style of choice, Julie explained honey production for Langstroth hives.

A hive should be fed sugar syrup and spring patties (protein) in the spring. Bees will choice nectar and pollen over sugar syrup and protein. This stimulates the bees to start rearing more brood which increases the hives population. Because the hive is big and strong, the bees can start storing extra honey quicker. If undrawn supers are placed on the hives, the bees should be feed sugar syrup until the super is drawn out. A beekeeper must be careful not to feed sugar syrup when the bees are filling in the supers. If the beekeeper continues to feed sugar syrup when a super is on, then the “honey” will be sugar syrup. A honey flow is when there is lots of nectar flowers in bloom. When there is a nectar flow on, the bees can fill in a super in just a few days. Bees always make surplus honey. A beekeeper should not feed their bees other people’s honey because it may spread diseases.


Beekeeping 101: Week Two

Week two of Beekeeping 101 was about equipment and location, location, location.

In the United States, honey bees must be on removable frames. This allows for the frames to be easily checked for diseases. The most common style of hive is the Langstroth style hive. We have Langstroth hives. Top Bar Hives are hives that are shaped like trapezoids and have wood pieces for the bees to build comb off of. The Warre hive is a mixture between the Langstroth hive and the Top Bar Hive. It uses multiple boxes, but uses bars instead of frames. A flow hive is a hive that honey can be extracted directly out of. Observation hives are hives that hold only a few frames and have windows that allow observation. Observation hives are often used as visual aids during presentations. A beekeeper can use any of these hive styles. The most common styles are Langstroth and Top Bar Hives. Googling any of these types of hives will lead to more information on them.

A beekeeper needs a hive tool or five, a smoker, smoker fuel, maybe rubbing alcohol to clean hive tools, and a suit and gloves. All sorts of other gadgets can be bought. We really like our frame perch and our frame grip tool. A beekeeper may choose to buy extraction equipment right away. Sometimes there are ways to rent out extraction equipment.

Another choice a beekeeper must make is what type of feeder the beekeeper will use. A Boardman feeder is an entrance feeder that uses a canning jar to hold feed. These feeders can cause robbing and require lots of refills. A division board feeder is a feeder that replaces one or two frames. These feeders need to be watched carefully when the bees are hungry. We use division board feeders. A top feeder goes on top of the broad box. A top feeder holds a lot of sugar syrup. Plastic bags, pails, and jars can be made into custom feeders.

Three main options for foundation is Duragilt foundation, wired frames, and foundationless. Duragilt foundation is a brand of foundation that is plastic with a beeswax coating. Wired frames have foundation that has wire running through it. Foundationless is either an empty frame or a frame with just a small strip of foundation on it.

An apiary is any number of bee hives or nucs.

A beekeeper should first look into their local bee laws before placing any hives on any location.

A beekeeper should take into account what is growing nearby when choosing an apiary location. A beekeeper will want to know if there is monoculture or prairie nearby. If a farm is nearby, a beekeeper should think about the pesticides that their bees may be exposed to.

An apiary location should be sunny. The sun encourages the bees to get to work. Damp, humid environments should be avoided because moisture can easily kill a hive. The apiary should be flat and accessible. A beekeeper will often put out a water source for their bees so that the bees do not get their water from a nearby pool. A windbreak is important for the bees in the winter. Sometimes a beekeeper will use a temporary windbreak for just the winter. Bee Hives should not sit directly on the ground to prevent rotting.

Hives should be assembled well in advance before the bees are scheduled to arrive. Wood glue should be used when assembling boxes and frames. Kiddy corner nails are important on frames because they increase the strength of the frames. Used equipment should be checked by the state apiarist to prevent the spread of diseases.

It is important to have goals before getting bees. Goals help when making decisions about splitting, extracting, and treating.


Beekeeping 101: Week One

In January and February of this year, Mom, Abigail, Bethany, and Olivia took Julia McGuire’s Beekeeping 101. We really enjoyed the class. It reinforced what we already knew. The first week was on the basics of beekeeping.

The first step to get into beekeeping is to take a class and join a bee club. Most classes happen during the fall and winter. There is a variety of bee clubs. They can be state, state region, county, or city-wide. City ordinances should be checked before one starts beekeeping. Believe it or not, there are quite a few cities that do not allow honey bees.

After taking a bee class and joining a bee club, getting bees is the next step. There are three basic types of honey bee source: local options; local businesses, but non-local bees; and non-local businesses with non-local bees. Local options are local beekeeping businesses that sell overwintered, local queens. Local businesses, but non-local bees are local businesses that sell honey bee that came from a outside source. Non-local businesses with non-local bees are the companies that ship their bees to the customer.

A beekeeper must decide if they want to be a commercial, sideline, or hobbyist beekeeper. A commercial beekeeper is a beekeeper with three hundred or more colonies and often beekeeping is their main source of income. A sideline beekeeper has between twenty-five and three hundred colonies and beekeeping is often an additional source of income. A hobbyist is a beekeeper with fewer than twenty-five hives. Each type of beekeeper will have different amounts and kind of work.

A new beekeeper must decide if they want to get a package or a nuc. A package is two or three pounds of honey bees with a mated queen. Packages are fun because the beekeeper gets to observe the hive grow. Surplus honey is possible, because a package will most likely not be split. Installation of a package varies with weather. Packages are often available in mid to late April. Queen quality varies with packages. Packages are one of the least expensive options to start beekeeping. Package bees are not usually locally adapted stock and have more potential for pests and diseases. A nuc is five frames of brood and resources with a mated queens and enough bees to fill the box. Nucs are easy to install because it is literally moving frames from one box to the other box. Nucs often produce surplus honey. Nucs are often locally adapted stock. Nuc queens are often of a high quality. Nucs cost more than packages. Nucs are usually not available until May through July. Nucs may have come from hives with lots of pests or diseases.

A beekeeper must also decide what breed of honey bees he wants. The four main breeds in Iowa are Italian, Carniolan, Russian, and Mutt. Italians are very productive honey makers, but they take a lot of brood into winter so they require more feeding. Carniolans are reliable producers of honey and they take less brood into winter then Italians. Russians are winter hardy bees, but are sometimes aggressive. Mutts are locally adapted stock. Mutts tend to be winter hardy, but sometimes have bad traits (e.g. aggression, a tendency towards swarming).

In the spring, packages are available and new and veteran beekeepers install them. When installing a package, one should suit up completely despite the calmness of the bees and the early spring temperatures. We explained how to install a package here. In the spring, established hives are getting busy with the first pollen. A beekeeper will perform his spring cleaning and redistributing. Spring cleaning involves switching an established hives brood boxes and cleaning the bottom board. A beekeeper may choose to re-queen a hive in the spring. It is important to have a good water source in early spring. If a beekeeper lives in a residential area, he should remember that there may be antifreeze from winterized swimming pools near his hives.

A hobbyist beekeeper often inspects his hives every seven to ten days. A sideline or commercial beekeeper will check his hives significantly less. Summer inspections are just to make sure there is still a queen and she is laying well and that the bees have plenty of room. A beekeeper may catch some swarms (Swarming is the natural process by which honey bees reproduce.) or do a cutout or two. (A cutout is when a beekeeper removes a feral hive from a building.) A beekeeper should continue to attend bee club meetings throughout the summer. Thinking about winter in August will ensure the beekeeper has plenty of time to get the bees ready.

Honey should be harvested in either late July or early to mid-August. Hives should be treated for varroa mites and any other pests as soon as the supers have bee removed from the hive (September). Winter boxes should be added in October and hives should be wrapped up late November or early December.

Throughout the winter, emergency food should be fed to the bees. We fed the bees sugar. The bees will take bathroom breaks about every month. A beekeeper should make sure their hives are staying dry. Around early April, the bees will start being more active.

Honey bees are insects. They have six legs, two sets of wings, and two antennae. Honey bees go through metamorphosis. Honey bee metamorphosis starts as a egg. A honey bee is an egg for three day. Next, the honey bee becomes a larvae. A bee is a larvae for six days. A bee is capped on day nine. While the bee is capped, it is a pupa. When the bee emerges from its cell, it is an adult. There are three castes of honey bees. The queen lays all the eggs and is the mother to all the bees in the hive. She is selected by the hive when she is an egg. She will mate once with multiple drones. The worker bees do all the work in the hive. They clean the hive, feed the brood, store the honey, make the beeswax, guard the hive, and forage for nectar and pollen. Drones are the only male bees. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. Honey bees eat nectar and pollen. Nectar is a carbohydrate and pollen is a protein.

Honey bees are social insects. They have a hive mentality which means that the bees will do anything for the good of the hive. All the bees in a hive work together to keep the hive alive and to help the next generation live. The hive reproduces by swarming. The brood pattern indicates the status of the queen and the hive. Solid cells in a solid pattern indicates a strong queen and, therefore, a strong hive. Perforated cells in a spotty pattern indicates a weak queen and, therefore, a weak hive.


This is an example of an excellent brood pattern.

Honey bees (and all native bees) are incredibly important to agriculture. About one in every three bites of food would not exist if honey bees did not exist. The world would be significantly different if there where no honey bees.


Fun Fact: Every pound of honey bees is about 4500 bees.

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.