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.


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.


North Side Public Library Honey Bee Story Time

On August 1st, I led honey bee story time at the North Side Branch of the Des Moines Public Library. This story time was part of my Central Iowa Honey Queenship

First, I read the book Little Bee by Edward Gibbs. As you probably know by know, I love using this book to teach why honey bees sting. Honey bees do not like to sting people. They sting mostly to protect the hive.

Here I am reading the book Bee Dance by Rick Chrustowski. Bee Dance is my all time favorite children’s honey bee book.

Here I am teaching the kids how to do the waggle dance. The kids then went around the room to collect nectar and pollen from the paper flowers.

I love these pictures that were given to me. The picture in the photo below is my favorite because it can be used to teach about pollen baskets, pollination, or even the effect of chemicals on honey bees.

Here I am teaching about the life cycle of honey bees.

The kids at this program were very attentive. After story time, they were able to color honey bee themed coloring sheets.


July 30th Squash Hive Check

July is right in the middle of the honey flow and in beekeeping you want to stay ahead of the flow by adding plenty of suppers. You also do not want to get to far ahead where you add to many boxes making it harder for the bees protect from pests.

Here is Abigail and Bethany starting to open there hive boxes. Notice the sunflower in the corner! Bees love sunflowers.

From above you can see which frames are starting to get honey and which aren’t. If the frames do not have honey, we move to the next box which is what Bethany is doing. Abigail is pulling out frames from her top box.

Here Bethany is looking at a honey frame that possibly has brood or pollen on it. Abigail is moving her box over to the outer cover.

Bethany and Abigail are looking at frames from the brood box.

In the flower below you can see a squash bee in a squash blossom!

This is another squash bee on a flower blossom.

It was fun to see our bee hives growing! It was fun to see different bees on many blooming flowers.


Helping Honey Bees at the Polk County Fair

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.

Honey 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.


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.


Bees On Rhubarb

Our rhubarb was at its peak in early May and the bees loved it. Many people take off the flowers and seeds so the rhubarb does not waste energy on the seeds but we did not remove them until later.

Here is a bee on one of our rhubarb plants. This was the biggest rhubarb plant we have.

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This is a good picture of the bee’s head.

In this picture you can see the bee’s pollen basket is getting filled.

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Before I saw the bees on the rhubarb I didn’t know they pollinated rhubarb, now I do!

Bethany Kelly

The Importance of Dandelions

Dandelions are important because they are the bees’ first foods. Dandelions have both nectar and pollen. Honey bees go to dandelions because there is usually not much more in bloom.


Here is a picture of a honey bee on a dandelion.


This is a video of a honey bee on a dandelion. Click on it to watch it.



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.


CIBA September 2018 Meeting

The Central Iowa Beekeepers Association’s September 2018 meeting was held at the Dr. Amy Toth Lab Bee Field Station, in Ames, Iowa. The Dr. Amy Toth Lab Bee Field Station is located on the Iowa State University Horticulture Farm. The meeting included a presentation on winterizing by Jamie Beyer and Linn Wilbur, a tour of the Lab Bee Field Station, and a business meeting.

Overwintering is an important topic, because in Iowa a majority of hives die over the winter. If beekeepers properly prepare their bees for winter, the bees have a better chance of surviving winter. Just because bees die in the winter does not mean that the beekeeper did something wrong. This winter, we have had a large loss rate so far. Finding out why so many bees have died will better our knowledge of how to prep our bees for winter in the future. Winter prep is all about raising healthy, strong winter bees. There must be healthy bees to raise the strong winter bees. We must start preparing the bees for winter three generations of bees before the winter bees.

As always, beekeeping is local. The following calendar is based on Iowa temperatures and weather. In August and September, honey supers should be removed from the hives and the hives should be treated for varroa mites. Reducing the number of varroa mites in beehives will reduce the stress on the bees as they overwinter and will make the bees healthier. In October to November, honey bees should be fed sugar syrup and, if the beekeeper chooses, pollen substitute. This will ensure that the bees will have plenty of food to eat over the winter. In early December, all beehives should be winterized. Winterized means insulation, wrapping (when material gets wrapped around a hive to keep the hive warmer), and winter boxes (explained shortly) should be on and the hive should be sealed up for the winter. Emergency sugar should be added to the hive. We mountain camp our hives (explained in this blog post). Fondant and candy boards can also be used. If the beekeeper chooses to treat the bees with oxalic acid for varroa mites he will treat in late December or early January. From January to April, the beekeeper will monitor his hives to make sure they have enough emergency stores. The beekeeper will only go into the hives on warm days of forty degrees Fahrenheit or higher unless it is an emergency. In Iowa, we can expect the first dandelions to start blooming in mid April. Dandelions are the bees first food and announce the arrival of spring for beekeepers.

There are many winterizing options for hives. There are black cardboard boxes that go over the hives that keep the hive warmer (to the left of the picture below). Some beekeepers wrap their hives with tar paper to keep them warmer. Almost all Iowan beekeepers insulate their hive in some way because moisture is much more likely to kill the bees than cold. One way is to put a moisture board on top of the hive. We put winter boxes on our hives. Winter boxes have wood chips in them. The wood chips absorb the moisture and prevent it from dripping on the bees.


At the Dr. Amy Toth Lab Bee Field Station, they are doing research on what pollen bees are bringing from year to year. We were able to hear a presentation on their research and even see the difference ourselves. The bags on the table have pollen in them. They collect the pollen using a pollen trap which is on the far right of the table.


They are also doing research concerning Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) and Lake Sinai Virus (LSV). I am going to be completely honest, I have no idea what these clear things are.


They are also doing research concerning Kashmir Bee Virus (KBV) and (I believe) Black Queen Virus (BQV).


Here is some of the research data that they have collected concerning honey bee diseases, temperatures per month, and the effects of bees foraging on soy beans.


This poster shows some of there research concerning honey bees and the effect they may be having on native bees.


They have also been researching planting for pollinators. They have a plot of land that they plant for pollinators then they find out how many insects are attracted to the plot. Here is a box of Iowan pollinators including bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies.


This box contains beneficial insects including beetles, lady bugs, and praying mantises.


This box has more pollinators.


Olivia and Mom enjoying the ride on a tram.


Bethany enjoyed seeing all the pollinators.


I really enjoyed seeing what the researchers are doing up in Ames. I also enjoyed learning about overwintering and having a schedule for it.

Note: Always bring your beekeeping notebook with you to beekeeping events. Do not leave it in the car. I left my notebook in the car and was unable to go back and grab it.