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.


2019 Warren County Fair

On July 26th, Bethany and I volunteered at the Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa booth at the Warren County Fair. We spent the day sharing about honey bees with fair-goers.

The Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa had an observation hive with bees in it at their booth. This gave me a great opportunity to help people find the queen, spot brood, and see real honey comb.

Bethany also used the observation hive to educate about honey bees.

The booth also had a real honey vs. fake honey taste test, honey bee quiz game, and posters about honey bees. I learned that another name for a worker bee’s pollen basket is corbicula. Bethany and I loved the opportunity to educate about honey bees.


Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa June Meeting – Queen Rearing

On June 27th, the Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa (FBI) had their monthly meeting. For this meeting, Jason Foley, of Foley’s Russian Bees, spoke on queen rearing. A beekeeper would want to raise his or her own queens because it saves money and gives the beekeeper the ability to somewhat control the genetics of their bees.

The first method he discussed was the walk away split method. We have used this method many times to split hives. A downfall to walk away splits is that it only makes one additional hive unless there are the bees to make multiple walk away splits. A beekeeper could cut out extra queen cells and put them in a nuc with extra bees, but this would risk hurting the queen cells. A cell maker, a special queen rearing tool, could go into the hive as long as the hive is queenless. One of the things Jason continued to emphasize throughout the presentation was that you always want at least two queen cells in a hive. Always.

Another method that can be used to rear queens is the horizontal technique. This technique requires wax foundation. In this technique, sticks or rocks are used to suspend a frame of larvae horizontally in the hive so that the larvae are facing down. The bees then will build queen cells out of the downward facing larvae.

The queen rearing system is another method used in queen rearing. Jason does not use this method because it is expensive, because he see it as an intermediate crutch, and because it requires the queen to lay in the artificial queen cups (The queen does not like to do this).

The general method Jason uses is the grafting method. Grafting is the removal of incredibly young larvae and putting them into a cup that manipulates them into a queen. There are two types of grafting, dry and wet. In dry grafting the young larvae is put in a queen cup without any royal jelly or yogurt. In wet grafting the young larvae is put in a queen cup with royal jelly or yogurt. Yogurt is similar enough to royal jelly that young larvae that are going to be queens can be fed a small amount of it when being grafted. The royal jelly or yogurt helps the larvae to not dry out.

Jason suggests using the Chinese tool for dry grafting. Dry grafting is more time consuming then wet grafting. The pros to dry grafting is that it is inexpensive and it does not take a lot of prep. The cons to dry grafting is that it can dry out the larvae causing some to die and it is rough on the bees.

He suggested using the German tool for wet grafting. In wet grafting, a syringe can be used to drop a small amount of royal jelly or yogurt into the queen cell before the larvae is placed in the cell. The pros to wet grafting is that it does not dry out the larvae and it is gentler on the bees then dry grafting. The cons are that it is more expensive then dry grafting and it takes more prep then dry grafting.

When grafting larvae the same steps apply to dry or wet grafting. First, the right age larvae must be chosen. The larvae should be young. They should be just starting to make the “c” shape. The larvae should not touch the side of the cell. If the larvae touches the side of the cell, it will most likely be damaged. The larvae should be grabbed from the backside of the “c”. The larvae should be carefully placed into its queen cell.

Jason talked about two queen rearing methods, the two part method and the Foley method. (Which one do you think Jason uses? 🙂 ) In the two part method a hive is opened up and refilled with mainly almost hatching eggs. The hive is then given extra nurse bees so that all the brood is taken care of. The hive is also fed and given one or two frames of pollen and honey. This allows the bees to focus on raising brood. Cell starters are then put in the hive. Once the cells are filled out, the cells are put in a strong hive above a queen excluder. The starter hive should refilled as cells are removed.

In the Foley Method, a nice overflowing double deep or supered hive is reduced to one deep and fed. The queen should be removed. The hive should be closed up so that all the bees cannot get in. The following day the hive should be given two frames of grafts. After five days all but two or three queen cells should be removed and put in an incubator. When incubating queen cells, the incubator should be kept humid (at about 80%-90% humidity). Jason suggests incubating because if the cells are left in the hive the bees will build burr comb around the cells. If the beekeeper wants his or her queens to hatch early the incubator can be kept extra warm. Jason, however, suggests keeping the incubator at 93 degrees so that the average is 92 degrees. On day five after removing the queen cells from the hives, the queen cells should be put in mating nucs. If some of the queens have already emerged they should also be put in mating nucs. It takes the queens three days for their bodies to harden before they can go on their orientation flights. When the queen goes on her mating flight, she likes to fly one mile from her hives. Drones on the other hand only like to fly 1/4 mile from their hive.

Nucs with a mated queen in them can be sold. Jason suggests using Styrofoam nucs if the beekeeper is making nucs on a large scale. Queens or queen cells can also be sold. Nucs, queens, and queen cells are very sought after by beekeepers.

Here are some of Jason’s tips and pointers. When making queens, everything should be kept warm. The beekeeper does not want to accidentally freeze a queen. The above timetable can be tweaked based on what works for each individual beekeeper. Don’t waste time with messed up larvae because they won’t make good queens if they live. Always make more queens then you want because some will definitely die. Watch the environment when making queens. If running mating nucs, feed, re-stock, check for hive beetles, and pull if hives have hive beetle larvae. If the beekeeper is shipping out of state, the package must arrive in two days. Finally go the extra mile, but don’t waste time on people who do not listen to instructions.

This was a great presentation. It is a very complicated subject and very hard to understand even if you are a beekeeper.