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.


Entering the Iowa State Fair

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.

I tried my hand at a window display. My window display was a variation of my Helping Honey Bees Presentation. I placed third in window displays.

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.


Working the IHPA Booth at 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.


Presenting at the Iowa State Fair

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)

On Wednesday, I assisted the Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa Honey Queen, Emma, with two cooking with honey demonstrations. Emma writes regular cooking with honey articles in the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s newsletter.

On the second Thursday of the State Fair, I assisted the State Apiarist, Andy Joseph, with a presentation. Mom and Dad were at the State Fair and stopped by for the presentation.

On the second Friday of the State Fair, I presented my Helping Honey Bees presentation.

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.


Iowa Honey Producers Association’s Booth at RAGBRAI 2019

On July 23rd, Olivia and I worked the Iowa Honey Producer Association’s (IHPA) booth at RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is an event were cyclist cycle across the state. There are selected stops across the way. One of the stops was at Howell’s Greenhouse and Pumpkin Patch. The IHPA booth had a observation hive, educational hand outs, and honey lemonade!

Before the cyclist started arriving, we helped tape together honey styxs.

Olivia showed cyclist’s where the queen was in the observation hive. I also enjoyed using the observation hive to educate cyclists.

This event was a great opportunity for me to represent my club.

Howell’s Greenhouse and Pumpkin Patch has goats! Olivia got in the pen with them and played with them before we left. Good thing she did not come home with one.

It was a lot of fun for us to share our love of honey bees with people from all around the county.


IHPA Summer Field Day 2019

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.


Here is Ginny Mitchel looking at a jar of honey.

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.


Here is one of the baskets Ginny used as examples. The vice president of IHPA put these baskets together.

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.


Olivia is rubbing one of the candles we brought for Ginny to “judge” with a nylon to restore its shine.

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.


Here is Melissa Burdick speaking about the best types of trees for honey bees.

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.


The 2018 IHPA Annual Conference – Day Two

The second day of the Iowa Honey Producers Conference included more presentations and the Youth Scholarship Luncheon. Here is the link to our blog post on the first day of the IHPA conference. Saturday started with the introduction of the new board and the contest awards.

Abigail and Olivia laid out the name tags for the Youth Scholarship Recipients.


The map shows where the Youth Scholarship Recipients are located.


The first presentation we sat in on was Varroa Feed on Hemolymph and Two Other Alternate Facts given by Dr. Sammy Ramsey. Dr. Ramsey began his presentation by stating that varroa mites wiped out feral bees around 1997, ten years after their arrival. The purpose of Dr. Ramsey’s presentation was to walk through the process of how he discovered that varroa mites do not feed on Hemolymph (blood).

What varroa mites feed on has not been confirmed because their feeding behavior is very hard to observe. The first hypothesis Dr. Ramsey developed was mite digestive system and excrement shows similarities to other hemolymph or fluid feeding arthropods. This theory expects that varroa mite feces is very watery because hemolymph has a high water content. He observed, however, was >95% guanine with very little water content. Another expected proof based on this theory is the digestive system has a filter chamber-like modification perfect for digesting hemolymph. The observed was that their were no modifications to shunt excess water away from midgut. This means that the varroa mite’s digestive system is not made for digesting hemolymph. So there is no proof that the mite digestive system and excrement show similarities to other hemolymph or fluid feeding arthropods.

The second hypothesis Dr. Ramsey developed was varroa mite lineage shows that varroa mites are closely related to other lymph feeders. The expected is that varroa are closely related to other dilute fluid-feeding mites. Mites, however, are closely related to predatory mites that feed through extra-oral digestion. When varroa mites were compared to these other mites, it was found that they share similar digestive system structuring.

The third hypothesis Dr. Ramsey developed to prove that varroa mites feed on hemolymph was varroa mites are observed feeding wherever hemolymph is present. The expected is that the varroa mites are able to feed from a variety of location. Varroa mites, however, strongly prefer the underside of the bees thorax and abdomen.

The next hypothesis is varroa feed exclusively on the hemolymph of adult and immature bees. Of course, this hypothesis is automatically wrong if varroa mites do not feed on hemolymph.

The next hypothesis is varroa mites will usually be found on top of the worker bee’s thorax. This is false. Varroa mites are most often found on the underside of the bees thorax and abdomen.

When a varroa mite is on an adult bee it feeds on the bee. The mite pushes itself between the bees plates and the mite pierces multiple layers of soft tissue. The varroa mite than sucks out some of the bees fat body (which acts as the bee’s liver) and uses extra oral digestion to digest it. Varroa mites do not feed on hemolymph, but on fat body.

Varroa mites feeding on the honey bees’ fat body effects the honey bees’ growth and development, metamorphosis, nutrient storage and mobilization, metabolic activity, water loss and osmoregulation (this has to do with the control of water in the honey bee’s body), temperature regulation, pesticide detoxification, protein synthesis, immune function, and viteliogenesis (part of reproduction). As you can see varroa mites feeding on honey bees result in all sort of problems in the bees body which causes problems in the colony. It is incredibly important that beekeepers know how to prevent varroa mites from overrunning their hives.

What should the change in our knowledge of what varroa mites actually feed on cause beekeepers to do? It should cause us to reevaluate how we treat for them. Here is the link to Dr. Ramsey’s Facebook page.

Dr. Ramsey’s interview in Bee Culture.

Academic article explaining the research and results.

Beekeeping Today Podcast.

The second presentation was given by Dr. Megan Milbrath. Her presentation was entitled Do You Know What to Do about American Foulbrood. American Foulbrood is a bacteria and can form spores. AFB is environmentally stable. It has been around since around 1967 and has the potential to devastate a beekeeping operation. AFB is not related to European Foulbrood (EFB). There is only one type of AFB in America and it has a lower virulence. Fun fact: Humans can get AFB only if they inject honey with AFB spores into their bloodstream. (Do NOT inject honey into your bloodstream!)

How does AFB get spread? AFB is often spread by a beekeeper moving equipment around in a apiary or between apiaries. AFB can also be spread through robbing or swarming. Unlike a lot of honey bee diseases, AFB is not brought on by stress. AFB is also not caused by a failing queen. To prevent AFB from spreading beekeepers can practice good hive hygiene. They can wash their hands between apiary locations and wear gloves. Another important step to prevent the spreading of AFB is to clean hive tools between apiary locations. Hive tools can be cleaned with bleach or they can be cleaned with flame. A lot of beekeepers will stick their hive tools in their smokers to clean them.

It takes less than ten AFB spores to cause a hive to be infected. The spores only effect larvae at 12-48 hours. The larvae are often fed food with AFB spores in it. Nurse bees spread AFB because the spores can remain in nurse bee’s crops. The first step to a hive becoming infected is the introduction of spores. Once spores are introduced and the proper conditions exist the spores germinate. Next the spores reproduce. Once their is no more food for itself, the disease turns back into spores. AFB kills bees from the inside out. The honey bee larvae eat food infected with AFB spores and the spores fill the larvae’s intestine. The spores actually disintegrates the bee from the inside. The larvae dies just as it is being capped.

How can a beekeeper prevent AFB? AFB is not yet a normal occurrence and practicing good hive hygiene helps prevent it. Once AFB is in a hive, there is nothing a beekeeper can do to get rid of it because spores last for up to seventy years. Early detection is key to preventing AFB from spreading. Three signs of AFB that are not unique to AFB are a spotty brood pattern, sunken cappings, and holes in cappings. A spotty brood pattern may be a sign of AFB because some of the larvae dies due to AFB, but some of the larvae makes it to adulthood. Sunken cappings may be a sign of AFB because the larvae died after being capped and the cappings sunk because the disintegrated larvae did not keep them up. Hole in cappings are a sign that the bee died before it could be completely capped. Three signs of AFB unique to AFB are caramel colored dead larvae, pupal tongue sticking out, larvael scales, and the characteristic smell. When a hive is infected with AFB, the dead larvae are caramel covered and their tongues are sticking out. Caramel colored brood and sticking out tongues are not always present in a hive infected with AFB and not every beekeeper can smell the characteristic smell. The dead larvae appear scaly on the frame of a hive infected with AFB.

If a beekeeper suspects he has AFB, he should take a field test and send a sample into the National Laboratory. There are four types of tests their are commercial diagnostic tests, the match stick test, the Holst milk test, and the Elisa test. If you would like to know more about any of these tests, google them. In Iowa, AFB is a reportable disease. If a beekeeper has AFB, some states require him to burn the hive (equipment and bees) and bury the ashes. In Iowa a beekeeper must destroy all the bees and the comb. Here is the link to the Iowa government page that describes protocol for AFB. Not all states require that the equipment be burned. The goal of the beekeeper is to stop the infection and to prevent the spores from forming. Dr. Milbrath said that the best option is to burn at least the comb and the bees. Bees and equipment can also be disposed by being double bagged in contractor’s bags and disposed at the landfill. If everything does not have to be burned, then the beekeeper can shake the bees into a completely new hive, treated with antibiotics, and the yard should be treated as a quarantine for a whole year. The antibiotics should be transitionally stopped throughout the year. Equipment that is not burned should always be sterilized.

AFB can infect any colony and spreads easy. Eliminating the spores is critical to preventing AFB. Bees with hygienic behavior may be good at preventing AFB from spreading. Here is the link to Dr. Milbrath’s website.

Our friend, Joanna, is a 2019 IHPA Youth Scholarship Recipient. Before lunch, Abigail, Joanna, and the 2018 and 2019 IHPA Youth Scholarship Recipients socialized and shared their years and talked bees.


Here are Mom and Olivia waiting for the Youth Scholarship Lunch to begin.


Here is Olivia, Mr. Mike, and Abigail talking about Abigail’s first year of beekeeping.


Here is Abigail giving her presentation. We blogged her presentation in this blog post.


Here is Abigail receiving her certificate of completion and Mr. Mike receiving his award for being a mentor.


Here is Abigail and Mr. Mike with their certificates.


Here are the 2019 Youth Scholarship Recipients. We wish them all the luck as they begin their beekeeping adventure.


The next presentation Abigail and Miriam sat in on was Very Advanced Queen Rearing by Dr. Tom Repas. The first question he posed was “Why would a beekeeper rear a queen?” One reason is cost. A “homemade” queen is free. She is also available whenever you can make her. The selection is much greater when a beekeeper makes his own queens because a beekeeper never makes just one queen. A beekeeper may choose to sell his queens which can be a source of income. Home reared queens tend to have a higher quality than bought queens. Since queen quality is so important, Dr. Repas explained what it is. A quality queen lays a large number of quality bee, produces viable offspring, and passes on genetics. A poor queen will create a less productive colony; while a productive queen will create a strong, productive hive. A longer queen is a better queen.

The quality of a queen is based on how she was raised, how healthy she is, and how well inseminated she is. Bees can raise their own queens and often do. An emergency queen the bees raise may not be as high quality a queen. A grafted queen is a queen a beekeeper decides the bees need to raise but not keep. The age of the larvae when grafted is very important. Small, young larvae are best for grafting. A beekeeper must know what kind of chemicals are around when he is grafting. Chemicals can affect the queens biology and physiology. Nosema and varroa caused viruses can effect the quality of the queen. Honey production is related to the queen’s quality.

Genetic diversity in a queen results in higher colony productivity, reduced brood diseases, and greater colony survival. New genetics are not introduced often into a hive. Well mated queens will create diverse offspring. Dr. Repas said that five million or more stored sperm cells in a queen is ideal. Poorly mated queens are more common in queens raised in the spring and late in the year.

The rate of supersedure is significantly less for local queens. This difference in supersedure is due to transporter stress. The longer a queen is allowed to lay before shipment increases her chances of acceptance. Supplemental feeding may not have an effect on queens. Honey bees should only be fed when needed. Feeding increases acceptance rate.

How should queens be assessed? Queens performance, physical characteristics, and health should all be monitored. She should have skipped less than 10% of the cells on a frame. There should be the proper amount of drones in the hive which varies depending on the time of year.

What practices are essential to making quality queens. A good breeder queen will produce quality queens. Some queens are just not fit to make queens and after a couple years queens are no longer viable and need to be replaced. Queen producing colonies should be well fed. Queen producing colonies can be additionally fed to be sure they are strong and healthy. There should be lots of unrelated drones around when queens are produced. This helps ensure diverse genetics. Warm, sunny days are preferred for queen rearing.

There are a couple different ways to go about making a queen. Three ways are mating nucs, emergency response, and an overcrowded, well-fed hive. A mating nuc is used because the beekeeper wants to have a small, easily controlled hive to make queens in. Emergency response is not a good way to make queens because emergency queens are not often quality queens. Some beekeepers make queens in overcrowded, well-fed hives. The bees make queens in this hive because they are so crowded that they want to swarm. The beekeeper then keeps the queens and does not let the bees swarm.

Next Dr. Repas described how to make a queen. If you are interested in learning about how beekeepers make queens, I would suggest watching some YouTube videos. I am not going to write out the process here because it is very complex and I am not sure I understand all the steps yet. Dr. Repas main point was well-bred, well-fed, and well-mated queens is the goal of raising queens.

Ellen Bell also gave a presentation on queen rearing. She gave it at the same time as Dr. Repas so Mom, Bethany, and Olivia sat in on her presentation. Ellen Bell stressed the importance of local queens and how they are more reliable than queens that have been brought in. She said it is especially important to make queens from overwintered colonies because the beekeeper knows they are hardy bees.


One good way to collect and keep data is through Facebook bee groups and bee clubs. Our blog is even a way to collect data because we share what we have learned and what we have done. By electrically monitoring beehives, a beekeeper can learn what is going on in their hives. The benefit of electronic monitoring is being able to constantly check on them. A beekeeper can electrically monitor their hive’s weight, temperature, humidity, sound, motion, and video. All of this data can be collected and kept for comparisons. A beekeeper then can compare how beekeeping has changed throughout the years. Fun fact: One bee weighs 1/10 of a gram.

The final presentation we sat in was Treatment Free Beekeeping presented by Joy Westercamp, the 2018 IHPA Honey Queen. She started her presentation by saying that every beekeeper defines “treatment free” differently. Joy defines “treatment free” as not using any chemicals. Joy has been treatment free for seven of eight years. She has Minnesota hygienics bees. She uses screened bottom boards that she leaves open all year long. She does brood brakes for her comb honey hives and drone frames in every hive body.

Why would a beekeeper be treatment free? One reason is the beekeeper does not have to spend any time or money on treatments. Another reason is some pests and diseases are resistant to treatments and more and more are becoming resistant. Some treatments can be harmed by chemicals. This is especially true if the beekeeper uses the chemical incorrectly. The beekeeper can be harmed by some of the chemicals. For example, if a beekeeper does not wear a respirator when vaporizing oxalic acid, he may be harmed by breathing it in. The final reason is some consumers prefer to buy honey and other products from treatment free beekeepers.

How does a beekeeper prevent pests and diseases from overtaking their hives if they are treatment free? A treatment free beekeeper uses some specific management practices. Brood breaks are used by treatment free beekeepers to prevent varroa mites from overrunning the colony. Brood breaks prevent the varroa mites from reproducing. A beekeeper will split or replace the queen to create a brood break. Drone trapping is another method of varroa mite prevention. Varroa mites prefer to reproduce in drone cells. A beekeeper will put a drone frame into the hive and the bees will build it out and have the queen lay eggs in the cells. Then, once the brood is capped, the beekeeper will pull out the drone frame, freeze the frame, then will scratch open the cells, and count how many mites are on the brood. A treatment free beekeeper may use a screened bottom board to prevent the buildup of varroa mites. When the varroa mites fall of the bees, the mites fall through the screen. Another varroa prevention method is sprinkling powder sugar on the top of the boxes. The varroa mites will either be knocked off the bees or the bees will clean them off. Then the varroa mites will fall to the bottom of the hive where they will either fall through a screened bottom board or stick to a tray with petroleum jelly on it. A treatment free beekeeper will feed yearly and often to keep the bees strong and healthy. Treatment free beekeepers will break down their small unproductive colonies. Treatment free beekeepers try to only keep the strongest hives because then eventually only strong stock will be around. TF beekeepers cull their comb early and often. Comb culling prevents the buildup of diseases. Resistant stocks is what treatment free beekeepers like to have. Russians, varroa sensitive hygienics (VSH), Minnesota hygienics, and Purdue ankle biters are some of the more common resistant stocks. Hygienic behavior can help with AFB (as discussed above), chalkbrood, virus loads, deformed wing virus, and Kashmir virus.

The IHPA was an excellent, information packed conference. We really enjoyed it and learned a lot. We are very excited for the 2019 conference.


The 2018 IHPA Annual Conference – Day One

The Iowa Honey Producers Association has a two day annual conference every year in November. In 2018, it was in Ames, Iowa. As a Youth Scholarship recipient, Abigail had to attend the Youth Scholarship lunch on Saturday. We decided to attend the conference both Friday and Saturday.

The first presentation was entitled The Tropilaelaps Mite: A Fate Far Worse Than Varroa presented by Dr. Sammy Ramsey. The Tropilaelaps Mite is a parasitic mite like the varroa mite, but smaller. Both the varroa mite and the Tropilaelaps mite originated from Southeast Asia because there are so many different types of honey bees there. Unlike the varroa mite, the Tropilaelaps mite is a brood parasite (it only feeds on brood) and has not yet been found in the United States. This mite was originally a parasite of the giant honey bee.

Why is it so important to learn about this mite? After all, they are not currently a problem in the U.S. Dr. Ramsey made the point that when the varroa mite was first discovered in Asia, American scientist, beekeepers, and government officials did not research it much because they were not in the U.S. yet. Beekeepers are now seeing the repercussions of the lack of research of the varroa mite. Dr. Ramsey has been researching the Tropilaelaps mites.

What is known about the Tropilaelaps mite? We know that there are at least four species of Tropilaelaps mites. The tropilaealaps mite has three stages as an adult. The first phase is the cell invasion phase where the mite goes into a brood cell. The second phase is the reproduction phase. In this phase, the mite lays her eggs in the brood cell. Tropilaelaps mites lay equal numbers of male and female offspring. Unlike in varroa mites, the male Tropilaelap mites can leave the cells they are born in. Finally, is the phoretic phase. The mites will attach themselves to an adult bee to travel to a new brood cell. These mites can also run really fast. Dr. Ramsey showed a video of the mites running across a frame and they were fast. These mites are harder to spot than varroa mites because they do not stay on adult bees as long. Varroa mites are usually spotted on adult bees.

What do the Tropilaelaps mites do to bees? These mites transplant viruses as well as chew on the legs and antennae of bees causing paralyzed body parts. Bald brood and uncapped, unclean brood cells is a side effect of tropilaelaps mites. How do beekeepers in Asia reduce the population of Tropilaelaps mites? Beekeepers in Asia reduce the population by splitting their hives a lot. This causes a brood break and since the Tropilaelaps mite only feeds on brood, they have no food. A type of wild bees in Asia actually does a cleaning dance to get mites of. Apis Mellifera does not do this.

What is not known about the Tropilaelaps mite? We do not know what they eat, whether they feed on adult bees, how they spread from hive to hive (maybe they walk or use an alternative host), and what is the most effective way to control them. What are researchers learning about the Tropilaelaps mite? They are researching how they feed, whether they feed on adult bees, how they are controlled by their native hosts, and which chemicals and non-chemicals are most effective. Hopefully, research will continue and beekeepers will know how to control these mites before they spread more. Here is the link to Dr. Ramsey’s gofundme page where he is raising money to continue research on the Tropilaelaps mites. Here is the link to Dr. Ramsey’s Facebook page.


Here is Mom, Abigail, and our little sister waiting for a presentation to begin.


The second presentation we attended was Overwintering Biology presented by Dr. Megan Milbrath. Here is the link to Dr. Milbrath’s website. Dr. Milbrath explained that winter to honey bees is when they do not have food, when the daylight hours are shortened, and when there are low temperatures. All the summer bees are dead before winter, this means there will be a smaller cluster than it appears. Winter is definitely the most difficult time for bees.

One of Dr. Milbrath’s main points was that beekeepers should not worry about creating a warm building for their bees, because honey bees are not humans. Honey bees most efficient temperature during winter is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A honey bee colony’s insulation is their cluster. The outer mantle of the cluster is similar to down or fur. To act as insulation the bees jam together with their heads toward the center of the cluster. The inner core of the cluster is very warm because that is where the bees raise their brood for part of the winter. The cluster tightens when it is cold and loosens when it is warmer. To create heat the honey bees flex their flight muscles. This “shivering” uses a lot of honey and creates a lot of moisture. Starving and moisture are two of the big reasons hives die of in the winter. It is important that the beekeeper learn how to counteract starvation and moisture. The cluster will never move down in the hive boxes.

Winter honey bees have a distinct physiological and behavioral state. They do not progress through the same jobs as spring, summer, or fall honey bees. Winter bees have different hormones than other season’s bees. Winter bees have increased nutrient storage and increased longevity. Winter bees are produced in the fall and are not on nursing duty until brood rearing begins at the end of the winter. Because of this, they have expend less energy and are stronger. A winter colony stops raising brood in the fall then starts raising brood again after winter solstice. This is the hardest part of winter because they must keep the brood at ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the bees will become nurse bees and start producing royal jelly. In order for the hive to survive, they must have a large cluster and be able to break cluster. A strong cluster has a young, strong queen, is established in a well constructed hive that is protected from extreme conditions, has adequate supply of honey and lots of protein, and is healthy. A hive with viruses is going to be weak and is going to be a small cluster.

How can a beekeeper help his hives be strong going into winter? A beekeeper should take their losses in the fall. If a hive is weak in the fall, the beekeeper should expect the hive to die over the winter. Dr. Milbrath said she does not combine hives because she believes it turns two hive (one weak and one strong or two weak or one weak and one medium) into one weak hive. Mouse guards should be put on the hives to prevent mice from moving in. A hive should have 75 to 100 pounds of honey and three to five frames of pollen (140-160 pounds whole weight) going into winter. A beekeeper can check a hives weight by lifting up the front of the hive. Hives should be fed early and often and checked on nice days. A beekeeper should not dig into the brood nest when checking the hive in the winter. To reduce moisture a beekeeper should add an upper entrance. Quilt boxes can also be used to reduce moisture. If a beekeeper chooses to wrap their hive, this may help in the spring. A beekeeper should clean dead bees out of the entrances so that the bees can leave the hive easier. Beekeepers may add spring pollen. Dr. Milbrath warned that this may cause too much brood too early. Dandelions signify spring to bees and beekeepers.

The next presentation was given by Dr. Keri Carstens who works at Corteva Agriscience. She shared about how Corteva Agriscience is trying to prevent pesticides from effecting honey bees. There are very specific tests to find out what effects pesticides may have on humans and honey bees.

Miriam and Mom during one of the breaks.


Bethany enjoyed the morning presentations.


Our little sister may have come along for the soda.


Following the lunch break, the state apiarist, Andy Joseph, gave a presentation on the state of the Iowa honey bee. The fall of 2017 was warm. There were a lot of light colonies with heavy mite loads. The bees needed lots of feed and plenty of time to prepare for winter. There were lots of losses over the winter. Spring was late last year which created a short time frame for to do mite treatments. Bloom was intense in late spring. Summer weather was extreme. In some places it was hot and dry; in others it was rainy with flooding. The honey harvest reports were on the low side. There was a large amount of hive beetles. Late summer and fall had lots of feeding, lots of robbing, and mites that would not die. Apiguard and Apivar seemed to mot work quite as well. Andy Joseph said it is important to get treatments on over the winter and in the spring to keep the mites at bay.

The next presentation was given by Dr. Megan Milbrath on Swarm Biology and Swarm Control. Dr. Milbrath first posed the question, Why do we care about swarms? We care about swarms because of the money lost in the bees if they leave, the loss in honey production caused by swarms, the possibility of the swarm moving into nearby structures, the possibility of the varroa mite population going up in your hives, and because, as beekeepers, we want to help the bees survive.

Honey bees swarm for three main reasons. The first reason is reproduction. Swarming is how a colony reproduces. The second reason is crowding. If the hive gets too cramped, some of the bees will decide to move out. The third reason is absconscion. If the bees do not like the queen, they will leave behind any young bees that cannot fly well and the foragers. Other possible reasons for absconscion are heat and a high varroa population. This leaves behind a weak hive. When do colonies swarm? Colonies mainly swarm in springtime (April 31st to May 31st). Colonies can swarm anytime and are known to do so.

How can beekeepers prevent swarming? Beekeepers can prevent swarming by knowing what causes colonies to swarm. Big colonies are more likely to swarm over small colonies. Stimulative feeding can cause swarming. Old queens are a big cause of swarming because their pheromones are less pervasive in the hive. This causes the bees to believe that there are too many bees in the hive. Having a young queen in the hive in the fall helps prevent swarming in the spring. In the winter, a beekeeper should know which of his colonies need swarm control in the spring.

The process of swarming starts with the workers deciding they are going to swarm. Next, the workers build queen cups and force the queen to lay in them. On day eight, the workers cap the queen cells. While the queens in the queen cells are developing, the worker bees that are planning to leave are gorging themselves with honey and thinning down the queen so that she can fly. The bees will wait for a good day to leave the hive. If the virgin queens are ready to emerge, the worker bees will force them to stay in their cells. On a good day, about half the workers and the old queen will leave the hive and find a new home.


These are capped queen cells.

A beekeeper has a couple options of how to prevent a swarm from leaving the hive. Reversals are when the brood boxes are flipped, putting the top box on the bottom and vice versa. A lot of beekeepers do reversals in early spring because when the colonies come out of winter they are in the top box and will not move down to the bottom box. Reversals allow the bees to have more space and reuse the space in the bottom box. Nectar management also prevents swarms. Nectar management is pulling out honey from the brood boxes throughout the year. Nectar management requires hive checks every seven to ten days and may not be sufficient. It also requires drawn comb. Nectar management works because honey is constantly being pulled from the hives which allows more room for the queen to lay brood. More brood, however, can cause swarming. Splits is a very common way of preventing swarms. Our blog post talks about when we split Maylyn. The danger of splitting too early is it creates weak hives that are prone to EFB (discussed in a presentation given by Dr. Milbrath the next day of the conference) and chalkbrood (a disease that prevents itself as chalky, dead brood). Temperature is a good indicator of when to split.

There are several different types of splits. The roughest way to split is a walkaway split. A walkaway split is when a beekeeper takes the top brood box and makes that box a hive and leaves the bottom box as a hive. The only thing a beekeeper does is ensure both boxes have queen cells. Another way to split is to take the old queen and put here in a nuc with a few brood frames and a few honey frames. This is how we split Maylyn. Equalization is a third way to split a hive. For equalization, the beekeeper gives some of the brood frames from a strong hive to a weak hive. I am unsure how often this is done and how well it works. Some beekeepers may destroy queen cells to prevent swarming. This does not work as the bees will just create new queen cells or will swarm anyway. It is also a waste of queen cells that could be used for splits. Dr. Milbrath’s presentation was very interesting and was a good reminder that we need to be thinking about splitting our hives this spring.

The next presentation we sat in was on mead making (honey wine) and was presented by Dr. Tom Repas. He explained the process of mead making. We are not planning on making mead (and are underage) so it was not a applicable presentation for us.

The final session we went to was the board meeting. This was the first time we had gone to the IHPA board meeting. It was interesting to see what the board does and Abigail enjoyed voting.

We all really enjoyed the first day of the IHPA conference. For day two we were able to go to many more interesting presentations and meet new people.