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.
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.
For the past few years, we have entered apiary products in the Iowa State Fair. It is not only a way to show off what we have learned about honey and beeswax, but also a way to fill the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s booth. In 2019, we entered in more categories then we did the year before.
Besides entering exhibits in the apiary category, my beeswax basket was selected to represent Polk County at the Iowa State Fair. It won a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair.
Some of us entered wet frames. Wet frames are honey frames that the honey has been extracted out of. I placed fifth in wet frames.
Mom entered honey frames. She placed third.
Because we did not get honey, Bethany, Olivia, and I entered photos. I received first place in beekeeping photography (far right). Bethany placed third in youth photography (far left). Olivia’s photo is in the middle.
Bethany’s other photo placed fifth in beekeeping photos.
Bethany, Olivia, Elianna, and I entered molded beeswax candles. Bethany placed first. Elianna placed second in the youth category. Olivia placed third. I did not place at all.
Mom, Olivia, and I entered dipped beeswax candles. Mom placed second in this category. I placed third. Olivia placed fourth.
Mom, Olivia, and I entered in beeswax art. Mom placed third. I placed fifth. Olivia placed sixth.
Bethany entered a basket in the State Fair. Her basket theme was “For a Special Drone”. She learned how to make fire starters and used many of our other products in her basket. Bethany placed third for her basket.
Working on projects for the Iowa State Fair and entering them is always a highlight of summer for us. We enjoy competing against each other to see who does best. We are thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn through the Iowa State Fair.
For the past few years, us girls have spent some time at the Iowa State Fair volunteering at the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s booth. 2019 was no different.
Before the State Fair, Mom, Miriam, Olivia, and I helped by folding shirts. Many of the shirts we folded were sold at the State Fair.
On the first day of the State Fair, Bethany and Miriam worked the candle rolling station.
I worked the observation hives. I was able to share about honey bees to fair -goers.
Olivia, not surprisingly, worked the sample table on the first day. Do you think she ate more samples than she handed out?
Bethany and I worked the second day of the State Fair. Bethany worked a cash register and I worked the candle rolling station.
On Monday of the State Fair, Bethany, Miriam, and Olivia worked the booth.
On Tuesday of the State Fair, Bethany filled cups with ice. These cups were then filled with the amazing honey lemonade.
On the second Thursday of the State Fair, I once again worked the candle rolling stations. All the money raised at the candle rolling station goes to the Honey Queen Program so that the honey queen can travel around the state to educate on honey bees, beekeeping, and the products of the hive.
Our friend, Joanna, was a 2019 IHPA Youth Scholarship Recipient. She worked the state fair on the second Thursday. She and Miriam were put in charge of selling honey lemonade.
On the second Friday, I once again worked the candle rolling station.
Bethany and Olivia sold honey lemonade.
We enjoyed working the booth, meeting new people, and hanging out with friends.
Throughout the Iowa State Fair, I was able to give five presentations and assist with six presentations.
The very first day of the Iowa State Fair I presented on beeswax. Olivia helped by dressing up as the Buzz the Bee.
I was able to promote Iowa honey, beeswax products, and other beehive products in my presentation. I also answered questions from the audience.
Olivia dressed up as Buzz the Bee for every presentation she could.
On Monday of the State Fair, I presented my Helping Honey Bees presentation in the 4-H building. I received a Certificate of Merit for my presentation.
On Tuesday of the State Fair, the 2019 American Honey Queen, Hannah Sjostrom, visited. I interviewed on The Big Show with her. She led a cooking with honey presentation and a basics of honey bees presentation. The North Iowa Honey Queen, Veronica, and the Iowa Honey Queen, Brooklyn, also assisted Hannah.
Here is Hannah giving her honey bee presentation. Hannah used the teaching tools to tell a story about the making of honey.
I explained what a beekeeper’s tools are and how they are used.
It was a privilege to meet Hannah and learn from her. (Left to right in the picture below are Bethany, Veronica, Hannah, myself, Brooklyn, and Olivia in the front)
My final presentations were on the final Saturday of the State Fair. I led two honey bee story times with help from the Southwest Iowa Honey Queen, JoAnn and a fellow beekeeper. After leading story times, state fair-goers were able to play honey bee themed games and do honey bee themed crafts. We, of course, handed out lots of honey sticks.
Presenting at the Iowa State Fair was a great opportunity for me to educate about honey bees, beekeeping, and the products of the hive while growing as a speaker. I learned from my fellow honey queens as well.
At the Polk County Fair, I gave a presentation entitled Helping Honey Bees as the Central Iowa Honey Queen. This presentation is about how anyone can help honey bees.
bees have become trendy recently and many people are wondering how
they can help honey bees (and other pollinators) without becoming a
beekeeper. Three big ways to help honey bees are to plant pollinator
friendly plants that are in bloom from April to October; to stop
using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides; and to
support a local beekeeper.
Planting pollinator friendly plants that are in bloom from April to October helps honey bees because it provides forage for the bees throughout their period of activity. Dandelions are the honey bee’s first food. Allow the dandelions to bloom in your yard. Other early spring plants are crocuses, maple trees, and fruit trees. Late fall plants are important because the bees need to have the resources to build up for winter. Goldenrod, sedum, and asters are great fall plants.
One of the visual aids I brought was a sedum from our yard for my presentation.
Not using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides helps honey bees because helps prevent the bees bring these chemicals back to their hive. There are many cases of pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, or insecticide honey bee colony deaths especially in states where crops are major industries. What about farmers whose livelihoods are dependent upon pesticide, fungicide, herbicide and insecticide sprayed crops? There is a surprisingly simple solution. Farmers should find out if any of their neighbors have beehives and then they should call them the day before they spray. The beekeeper will then close up their hives for a day. Farmers can also spray between dusk and dawn when the bees are less active. This prevents the bees from being sprayed and helps prevent the bees from picking up chemicals off of flowers.
Supporting a local beekeeper helps honey bees because honey bees are directly affected. Anyone can support a local beekeeper by buying their local honey, beeswax, and other beehive products. The beekeeper is then able to put the money he or she earns back into their honey bees and their business. By buying from a local beekeeper, you are showing that you support honey bees. Supporting a local beekeeper not only helps the honey bees and the beekeeper, but it also helps the consumer and the economy. It helps the consumer because when the consumer and the beekeeper have a good relationship the consumer will know they are getting what they are paying for. Much of the honey in stores is either ultra-filtered honey or it is not even honey. Ultra-filtered honey is honey that has been filtered to the point where all the beneficial pollen has been removed. Pollen is what makes honey an excellent way to reduce allergies. Some honey is actually corn syrup or sugar syrup. Corn syrup and sugar syrup are much more inexpensive to produce. Supporting a local beekeeper helps the economy because it encourages a small business.
Anyone can help honey bees by planting pollinator friendly plants that bloom from April to October, by reducing the amount of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides they use, and by supporting a local beekeeper. So how are you going to help the honey bees?
If someone is interested in becoming a beekeeper, they should read books, join a club, and take a beginning beekeeping class. We shared about our favorite books here and here and the Iowa Honey Producers Association has list of Iowa classes and clubs on their website.
After I gave my presentation, I spoke with my judge. I was selected to give my presentation at the Iowa State Fair. I was very excited to be able to share my love of bees once again.
One of my 4-H projects was a basic of beeswax products. I learned how to make all of these products in 2018-2019. I decided to learn how to make all these products to utilize the beeswax we removed from the hive. Beeswax has amazing health benefits. Beeswax candles are long burning and burn clean. When they burn, they make the air drop the dirt out off the air allowing it to be cleaned up. Beeswax in creams, salves, and lip balms moisturize and protect the skin. Beeswax based creams, salves, and lip balms are great alternatives to petroleum jelly based cosmetics.
On July 2nd, I gave a Hive Inspection Presentation at the East Side Library as the CIBA Honey Queen. First, I introduced myself. Then I explained what a beekeeper wears when inspecting. I explained that different beekeepers will wear different amounts of protection.
Next I explained a beekeeper’s tools. In the picture below, I am pretend smoking the hive entrance. A beekeeper smokes the bees to calm the bees down and mix up their attack pheromones.
After I removed the outer cover and inner cover, I explained the difference between a super and a deep. A super is where the honey bees store the honey and the deep is where the honey bees raise the brood. In this picture, I am removing the super so that I can “inspect” the deep.
Here I am showing a real frame that has honey in it. I also showed a frame that shows the life cycle of honey bees. Finally, I talked about how the bottom board is the bees entrance.
After my presentation, all the kids and adults were able to make a rolled beeswax candle. This picture shows all the colors they got to choose from.
Here are some of the kids making a candle. This craft is a favorite wherever I do it. Everyone also got to plant pollinator friendly seeds to take home.
Every summer the Iowa Honey Producers Association has a field day. The summer field day often includes hands on demonstrations. This year IHPA and CIBA put the field day on together. It was held at the Iowa State University Horticulture Farm.
After we got our name tags and agendas, we started helping. Olivia, Bethany, and Mom collected people’s desserts and put them where they belonged. Abigail handed out agendas.
After welcome and announcements, the first speaker was Ginny Mitchel. Ginny Mitchel is the 2019 Iowa State Fair apiary division judge. She spoke on What You Need to Know about Entering Items into the State Fair. First Ginny explained why someone would want to enter the state fair. The number one reason someone would want to enter the state fair i because it is fun! (And you can earn a little cash.) Entering honey in the state fair also represents beekeeping in Iowa because thousands of people walk by the IHPA booth at the state fair. A full honey display creates a great opportunity to educate the public about honey. In order to enter honey in the state fair, one must have honey to enter into the state fair. Last year (2018), we had honey in July so we harvested, extracted, bottled it, and entered it in the state fair. This year (2019), we did not get any honey so we did not enter honey in the state fair. If a beekeeper is planning on entering honey in the state fair, he or she must be extra careful when removing it. If he or she uses Bee Go (or other scented methods) or smoke, he or she must be careful not to use too much. A honey judge has a pallet that can detect the slightest amount of non-honey substance. How honey is extracted does not matter if it is to be entered in the state fair. State fair honey should be dealt specially. It should be warmed up a little bit so that it does not have any crystals in it. It should be strained through multiple metal strainers. It should be strained through the biggest sizes first and the smallest size last. State fair honey should always be put in a clean bucket. State fair honey should be strained through the foot of a nylon when it is poured into the final jar. When putting the honey in the final jar, the jar should not be filled all the way. The almost full jar should sit for 24 hours. After 24 hours, the bubbles at the top of the honey should be popped and seran wrap should be used to remove the foam. The honey should then sit for another 24 hours before being filled all the way. Ginny then discussed some of the common problems that arise with certain jars. Honey bear jars tend to be prone to bubbles. Queenline jars should always be topped with a plastic lid without a seal so that the judge can open each jar easily. The most perfect jars should always be chosen.
Next, Finny Michel talked about baskets. Baskets are all about the appeal (Is someone going to want to buy this basket?) never on the individual products. Although Ginny did say she likes to try out all the products. Non of the products can have identifying marks unless they are from some other apiary.
Comb honey is another product that can be entered in the state fair. Comb honey can only comb from a robust hive. Comb honey can be made by putting three deeps worth of bees in one deep then adding a comb honey super the following day. Comb honey frames must be perfectly placed and perfectly clean in order for the bees to make perfect comb honey. Two days after putting the comb honey super on, the beekeeper should go back and check to see how much beeswax the bees have built. The comb honey should be pulled of the hive as soon as it is capped so that the cappings do not get dirty. Bee Go should never be used when comb honey is harvested. A beekeeper must be careful not to tip comb honey frames. A helpful tip Ginny gave is to make a plexi-glass template for cutting comb honey. This will make sure that every comb honey is the exact same size. The piece of comb honey should fit snuggly inside the box. A parring knife should be used to cut the comb honey. Keeping the knife in warm water when not in use helps make it easier to cut the comb honey. One must be careful not to crack the cappings when cutting comb honey. Honey should be allowed to drain and then it should sit for two weeks. After it has sat, it should be stored in the freezer.
Chunk honey is very similar to comb honey. One must have both comb honey and liquid honey in order to enter chunk honey. Chunk honey is liquid honey that has a chunk of comb honey in it. The liquid honey should be harvest, extracted, and bottled as stated above. The comb honey should be processed as stated above for chunk honey. The scrapes from comb honey work great for chunk honey.
Creamed honey can also be entered in the state fair. The honey that is going to be turned into creamed honey should be treated just like the liquid honey that is going to be entered in the state fair. The started used to make cream honey should be as nice as the honey one wants to enter in the fair. Creamed honey should be made according to the normal method. We blog about how to make creamed honey here. Creamed honey should be checked regularly and all foam should be removed.
Next, Ginny Mitchel discussed candles for the state fair. Here is our tutorial on making beeswax candles. If the candles being entered are going to be container candles, Ginny said to only use glass. Any candle entered in the state fair should not have any pollen, propolis, or signs of shrinkage. Wax should never be bleached for state fair candles. If the candle is not coming out of the mold well, the mold with the candle in it should be put on ice. If the candle develops a white substance on the outside, it should be rubbed with a nylon.
Following Ginny Mitchel, Melissa Burdick spoke on Trees for Bees. She talked about all kinds of trees and shrubs that are great for bees. When choosing trees to plant for bees, one should consider when they bloom, how winter hardy they are, if they are native or not, and if they have some characteristics that may not be desirable.
After Melissa Burdick spoke, we had lunch and then the IHPA Honey Queen spoke about her recent activities.
The first break out sessions we participated in was a queen marking demonstration led by Pat Ennis. Both Bethany and I marked a drone. We used drones because unlike queens they are not worth forty dollars each. To mark the drone you had to first grab him by his wings. Then you pinched all his legs with you thumb and first finger. Finally, you used one of the special pens to mark the back of his thorax.
After marking drones, we went to the break out sessions about mite count methods led my Randall Cass. He showed the alcohol, powdered sugar, and ether roll version of the mite count. As we have only ever done the alcohol roll, it was a great way to see how the other two are done.
The next break out session was a hive inspection with the state apiarist Andy Joseph. He just simply walked the group through how he inspects a hive.
Following the break out sessions two of the researchers talked about their work with prairie strips.
After the prairie stips there was an expert panel Q&A. The panel consisted of Phil Ebert and Curt Bronnenburg (two commercial beekeepers), Andy Joseph (the state apiarist), and Randall Cass (a researcher at ISU). The panel was asked whether or not they use queen excluders, how they harvest honey, the difference between reversing boxes and spliting, how to prepare for winter, what causes swarms, pollen pattys, varroa mites being a huge issue right now, EFB, among a couple other things. Note: If you would like to learn more about some of these subjects, I have linked one of our blog posts were we talk about them. It was interesting to hear how the commercial beekeepers and researcher beekeepers treat their hives differently from a hobbyist beekeeper.
Finally, Andy Joseph talked about the state of the Iowa Honey Bees. The bees went into winter after a bad fall. Our winter was hard on the bees. The mortality rate was around 60%. The spring was wet and late. This years spring was perfect for EFB. However, the bees look surprisingly decent for the weather. Varroa mite loads have been relatively low.
The IHPA Summer Field Day was a great day of learning. The speakers were excellent. Ginny Mitchel was our favorite speaker.
A wax melter is something I was interested in for a while so finally I chose to build one for a 4-H project. I asked Mr. Sander what he used for wax melters. He showed me his favorite wax melter and gave me suggestions on how to make it better. The wax melter I made was roughly 2 feet by 30 inches.
We picked up wood and I started cutting it with my father’s ever watchful eye on me. I used a table saw to cut the wood.
I put glue in between the wood then I held it tightly together.
Then I drilled a hole in the wood for the screws and twisted a screw into the hole.
Here I am drilling a hole.
After I finished the sides of the box I traced a piece of plywood to the size of the box.
Then I cut the piece of plywood to size.
Next, I added glue to the side so I could attach the bottom.
I drilled holes for the screws so I could attach the bottom. I started in the corners then I did the rest.
I first painted the outside of the wax melter starting in the corners.
I painted three coats of paint.
After I was done painting the outside of the wax melter I let it sit overnight then did the inside.
Here I am doing the second coat.
I also painted another piece of wood that i would use when attaching the plexi-glass.
Here are some of the broken paint brushes. I suggest if you are doing your own wax melter you invest in nice brushes.
Here you can see the plexi-glass is attached.
Here I am hammering a nail into a disposable tin to make holes to strain the wax through. Do this to one pan or get a special grill pan.
I widened the holes with a screw.
Here you can see the broken plexi-glass. Plexi-glass is incredibly brittle especially when cold. You can also see the top pan has an old t-shirt that was cut up in it and wax on top of that. The top pan is the one I put the holes in.
Here is the wax melter in use. I used duct tape as a temporary fix until I got new plexi-glass.
Here is the wax after it went through the wax melter once.
The wax melter got considered for state fair but was not chosen. I am also entering to get a project award for the wax melter.
I am planning on making more to sell at the Central Iowa Beekeepers Association’s Auction in spring.