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.


Hosting the Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers – May 2019

On May 23rd, we hosted the Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers at our house to do splitting demonstrations. It was, unfortunately, a cloudy day, but we went into the hives because we had already rescheduled the meeting once. We split Olivia hives by removing the queen and we split Mom’s hive by using the walk away method.

We had quite a large amount of beekeepers at our house.


Mom and Bethany started inspecting Olivia’s hive while Abigail checked her hive.


Abigail was surprised by the small number of bees in her hive. The population should have grown after it recovered from the chilled brood.


Here Abigail is showing two beekeepers the sick looking brood in her hive.


Abigail was certain that her bees were sick. She suspected European Foulbrood the be culprit of the population decline.


Abigail looked into the bottom box because she wanted to make sure that there were signs of disease in that box.


Olivia’s hive was doing great! The queen had an absolutely beautiful laying pattern.


Mom found the queen then put the frame she was on in the nuc. The bees in the hive would then make a new queen.


Here is everyone trying to spot the queen.


We did not have very much drawn comb so we put an empty frame in with the queen split. The bees would build out the frames in the coming months.


Mom put two frames of brood and a good resource frame in the queen split.


We put the queen nuc by the garage so that the bees would re-orientate to their new home.


Here is Abigail starting to open Maylyn. Maylyn is a three year old hive. Maylyn already had a super on it in May!


We demonstrated how to do a walk away split with Maylyn.


We made sure that there was brood in both deep boxes. The top box has beautiful frames of brood.


The bottom box also had brood in it.


We moved the top box (with the queen in it) to by the garage so that the bees would re-orientate to their new location.


We transferred some of the frames in a nuc because the box was too heavy for us to carry.


Here Bethany is putting the frames in the nuc back in the deep.


Abigail put the super back on the deep at the back of the yard. We let the bees have three weeks to raise a new queen.


Here is Abigail closing up Maylyn.


We now had one strong two deep hive. We wanted to let the bees build up before giving them a super.

We had a two deep, queenless hive. We gave them three weeks to raise a queen.

We had a sick two deep plus a super hive. We called the state apiarist and asked him to come out and look at it.

We had a one deep plus a super queenless hive. We gave them three weeks to raise a queen. We left the super on so that they would not fill the bottom box with honey.

We had a one deep hive. We watched them carefully and gave them more room when they needed it.

And we had a nuc that we also watched carefully and added more room when they needed it.


Adventures with Ed and Cathy

On May 24th, Bethany, Abigail, and Mom helped Ed and Cathy with a unusual swarm situation. While we were at their house, we looked through their other hives with them.

Here we are looking at a flourishing hive. The bottom box was full of bees so we added a second deep.


Here we are looking at a frame. We helped Ed and Cathy spot eggs on their frame.


This is the hive the swarm came out of. The swarm moved to the tree.


As we were about to leave, we looked at some bees on the ground and spotted a queen with a cluster of bees. We caught the queen and put her in a plastic container.


Next, Bethany and Cathy took the queen into a car and caged her.


Here we are with the container with the caged queen and attendants in it.


I believe we put this queen with some of the frames from the table hive in a nuc. Last I heard, all three hives are doing well. Hopefully, they continue to do so.


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.


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.


February 2019 DMBB – Thermal Mite Treatment

The Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers (DMBB) February meeting was about thermal mite treatment. Thermal mite treatment is a varroa control method which takes advantage of the honey bee’s high tolerance to heat. It was discovered by beekeepers who observed that feral bee colonies that lived in metal roofed sheds having high daytime temperatures had a higher resistance to varroa mites.

One of the main advantages of thermal mite treatment is that it treats varroa mites on all stages of honey bees. This includes the varroa mites in capped brood. No chemical treatment can make this claim. Thermal mite treatment does not contaminate any wax or honey. The treatment can be used during a honey flow if needed. There is also minimal risk to the operator. The bees cannot be harmed by thermal mite treatment if the process is well controlled. Another big advantage is that thermal mite treatment seems to be effective on Small Hive Beetles as well as varroa mites.

A disadvantage to thermal mite treatment is that the process is slow. The treatment takes several hours per hive to complete. There is also an equipment expense that is much higher than buying a chemical. Because the treatment is powered by electricity it may be difficult in remote locations.

Thermal mite treatment works because when the temperature reaches roughly 102 – 106 degrees Fahrenheit the surviving varra mites lose the ability to reproduce. If the temperature reaches roughly 115 – 118 degrees Fahrenheit the varroa mites die.

The whole hive should be heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough that the heat soaks through the brood comb. This takes about three hours. This ensures that the entire colony is treated. Thermal mite treatment can even be done at night to ensure the whole colony is treated. Hives should be treated more than once a year. The most critical treatment is in August.

Thermal mite treatment systems can be bought but they are around two hundred dollars a piece! They can also be made, but making them takes some skill.

Thermal mite treatment is a very interesting topic and could become a leading way to treat for varroa mites.


September 2018 Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers Meeting

The Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers September 2018 meeting was a honey tasting and one of the beekeepers shared about her trip to D.C. where she was able to talk to some D.C. beekeepers and help inspect their hives.

Everyone brought some of their own honey. We brought some of our early honey and some of our late honey because the flavors are so different. There was honey from all around central Iowa, honey from D.C., and honey from the European country Georgia. The honey from Georgia was incredibly different from the honey from the United States. The Georgian honey had a completely different texture from the American honey. The D.C. honey had a distinct taste completely different from the Iowa honey. Even the Iowa honeys tasted unique. Honey is truly a very unique food.

This tag came with the D.C. honey.


It was interesting to see how beekeepers in D.C. keep their bees. Some of them keep their hives on their garage roof or on their porch due to how small yards are in D.C. I cannot imagine keeping bees in such a small space. Honey bees are an important part of any ecosystem, even highly urbanized ecosystems.