Around the beginning to middle of August in Iowa, the nectar flow was coming to an end. Right after the honey flow is over you take off your honey supers and start treating the bees. All treatments take a certain amount of time to be completed and most need to be done in a certain temperature.
First we looked through our supers to see if there was any honey to harvest. We worked as a team going through one hive at a time so it would be easier to clear all the bees off any frames we would want to harvest.
We also carefully examined the frames to make sure that the frames had no brood on them. If they did have brood on them, we would have to decide whether to keep the frames in the boxes and either wait to treat the bees or treat the frames and not use them for honey or we could take the frames out and kill the brood.
Abigail (wearing the orange gloves) Is taking off burr comb. While Bethany is scraping off cross comb. Burr comb is comb built where the beekeeper does not want it. Cross comb is comb that is built the wrong way on the frame.
We decided to wait another week to hope for a late honey flow. Here Abigail is picking up her supper boxes and looking to see if there are any honey frames.
Abigail is now looking for eggs or her queen in the hives deep box.
Bethany is making sure her frames are spaced properly. After you have drawn out super frames, you keep nine frames in the super rather then the usual ten.
Sometimes the honey flow is early or late depending on the year and nectar sources. As a beekeeper, you try to keep ahead of it. Unfortunately, last years honey flow was late and we were unable to harvest any honey.
Beekeeping is a roller coaster of good, bad, and, honestly, ugly experiences. Some years are perfect! Others, not so much. Last year had a lot of learning experiences despite some of the challenges we faced.
Note: All the links throughout this post go to our blog posts on each topic.
At the beginning of 2019, we had four hives come out of winter. Last year, we expanded to a second location. We placed two hives on a distant neighbors property. The bees at the second location did well. Mom’s hive survived summer. All three hives went into winter strong.
For the past few years, we have entered apiary products in the Iowa State Fair. It is not only a way to show off what we have learned about honey and beeswax, but also a way to fill the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s booth. In 2019, we entered in more categories then we did the year before.
Besides entering exhibits in the apiary category, my beeswax basket was selected to represent Polk County at the Iowa State Fair. It won a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair.
Some of us entered wet frames. Wet frames are honey frames that the honey has been extracted out of. I placed fifth in wet frames.
Mom entered honey frames. She placed third.
Because we did not get honey, Bethany, Olivia, and I entered photos. I received first place in beekeeping photography (far right). Bethany placed third in youth photography (far left). Olivia’s photo is in the middle.
Bethany’s other photo placed fifth in beekeeping photos.
Bethany, Olivia, Elianna, and I entered molded beeswax candles. Bethany placed first. Elianna placed second in the youth category. Olivia placed third. I did not place at all.
Mom, Olivia, and I entered dipped beeswax candles. Mom placed second in this category. I placed third. Olivia placed fourth.
Mom, Olivia, and I entered in beeswax art. Mom placed third. I placed fifth. Olivia placed sixth.
Bethany entered a basket in the State Fair. Her basket theme was “For a Special Drone”. She learned how to make fire starters and used many of our other products in her basket. Bethany placed third for her basket.
Working on projects for the Iowa State Fair and entering them is always a highlight of summer for us. We enjoy competing against each other to see who does best. We are thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn through the Iowa State Fair.
For the past few years, us girls have spent some time at the Iowa State Fair volunteering at the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s booth. 2019 was no different.
Before the State Fair, Mom, Miriam, Olivia, and I helped by folding shirts. Many of the shirts we folded were sold at the State Fair.
On the first day of the State Fair, Bethany and Miriam worked the candle rolling station.
I worked the observation hives. I was able to share about honey bees to fair -goers.
Olivia, not surprisingly, worked the sample table on the first day. Do you think she ate more samples than she handed out?
Bethany and I worked the second day of the State Fair. Bethany worked a cash register and I worked the candle rolling station.
On Monday of the State Fair, Bethany, Miriam, and Olivia worked the booth.
On Tuesday of the State Fair, Bethany filled cups with ice. These cups were then filled with the amazing honey lemonade.
On the second Thursday of the State Fair, I once again worked the candle rolling stations. All the money raised at the candle rolling station goes to the Honey Queen Program so that the honey queen can travel around the state to educate on honey bees, beekeeping, and the products of the hive.
Our friend, Joanna, was a 2019 IHPA Youth Scholarship Recipient. She worked the state fair on the second Thursday. She and Miriam were put in charge of selling honey lemonade.
On the second Friday, I once again worked the candle rolling station.
Bethany and Olivia sold honey lemonade.
We enjoyed working the booth, meeting new people, and hanging out with friends.
Throughout the Iowa State Fair, I was able to give five presentations and assist with six presentations.
The very first day of the Iowa State Fair I presented on beeswax. Olivia helped by dressing up as the Buzz the Bee.
I was able to promote Iowa honey, beeswax products, and other beehive products in my presentation. I also answered questions from the audience.
Olivia dressed up as Buzz the Bee for every presentation she could.
On Monday of the State Fair, I presented my Helping Honey Bees presentation in the 4-H building. I received a Certificate of Merit for my presentation.
On Tuesday of the State Fair, the 2019 American Honey Queen, Hannah Sjostrom, visited. I interviewed on The Big Show with her. She led a cooking with honey presentation and a basics of honey bees presentation. The North Iowa Honey Queen, Veronica, and the Iowa Honey Queen, Brooklyn, also assisted Hannah.
Here is Hannah giving her honey bee presentation. Hannah used the teaching tools to tell a story about the making of honey.
I explained what a beekeeper’s tools are and how they are used.
It was a privilege to meet Hannah and learn from her. (Left to right in the picture below are Bethany, Veronica, Hannah, myself, Brooklyn, and Olivia in the front)
My final presentations were on the final Saturday of the State Fair. I led two honey bee story times with help from the Southwest Iowa Honey Queen, JoAnn and a fellow beekeeper. After leading story times, state fair-goers were able to play honey bee themed games and do honey bee themed crafts. We, of course, handed out lots of honey sticks.
Presenting at the Iowa State Fair was a great opportunity for me to educate about honey bees, beekeeping, and the products of the hive while growing as a speaker. I learned from my fellow honey queens as well.
July 20th was the Central Iowa Beekeepers Association’s (CIBA) Summer Field Day. In the morning, Andy Joseph gave a tour of his apiary and I activities for kids back at the venue. We then had a potluck lunch. Finally, some of the board members demonstrated their extraction tools.
In the field, we got to watch Andy Joseph (the state apiarist) go through his many hives. He showed us frames and explained them. He also told us about different diseases and pests that can be in bee hives. It is always fun to learn about bees and especially from an expert. It was also a treat to have our Dad and siblings come who are often not able to come to these meetings. – Bethany
While Bethany was out in the field learning about inspecting, I stayed back at the venue to give Honey Bee Story Time and Honey Bee Jeopardy. I have led Honey Bee Story Time before at the East Side Library. I often play Honey Bee Jeopardy at my grade school age programs. I developed it to use as a review. -Abigail
After everyone returned for the field, there was a demonstration on how to extract using a variety of methods. Cappings can be cut off using a bread knife, hot knife, or uncapping machine. We prefer the bread knife as it is inexpensive and runs a low risk of burning the honey. The different size extractors were also demonstrated. The smallest extractor is a two frame manual extractor. This extractor is powered my muscle and is a good option for a beginning beekeeper. A larger electric extractor was also used. An electric extractor is pricier, but a lot easier to use. Many electric extractors have issues with shacking. It is important to keep this in mind when looking to purchase an extractor. -Abigail
At the Polk County Fair, I gave a presentation entitled Helping Honey Bees as the Central Iowa Honey Queen. This presentation is about how anyone can help honey bees.
bees have become trendy recently and many people are wondering how
they can help honey bees (and other pollinators) without becoming a
beekeeper. Three big ways to help honey bees are to plant pollinator
friendly plants that are in bloom from April to October; to stop
using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides; and to
support a local beekeeper.
Planting pollinator friendly plants that are in bloom from April to October helps honey bees because it provides forage for the bees throughout their period of activity. Dandelions are the honey bee’s first food. Allow the dandelions to bloom in your yard. Other early spring plants are crocuses, maple trees, and fruit trees. Late fall plants are important because the bees need to have the resources to build up for winter. Goldenrod, sedum, and asters are great fall plants.
One of the visual aids I brought was a sedum from our yard for my presentation.
Not using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides helps honey bees because helps prevent the bees bring these chemicals back to their hive. There are many cases of pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, or insecticide honey bee colony deaths especially in states where crops are major industries. What about farmers whose livelihoods are dependent upon pesticide, fungicide, herbicide and insecticide sprayed crops? There is a surprisingly simple solution. Farmers should find out if any of their neighbors have beehives and then they should call them the day before they spray. The beekeeper will then close up their hives for a day. Farmers can also spray between dusk and dawn when the bees are less active. This prevents the bees from being sprayed and helps prevent the bees from picking up chemicals off of flowers.
Supporting a local beekeeper helps honey bees because honey bees are directly affected. Anyone can support a local beekeeper by buying their local honey, beeswax, and other beehive products. The beekeeper is then able to put the money he or she earns back into their honey bees and their business. By buying from a local beekeeper, you are showing that you support honey bees. Supporting a local beekeeper not only helps the honey bees and the beekeeper, but it also helps the consumer and the economy. It helps the consumer because when the consumer and the beekeeper have a good relationship the consumer will know they are getting what they are paying for. Much of the honey in stores is either ultra-filtered honey or it is not even honey. Ultra-filtered honey is honey that has been filtered to the point where all the beneficial pollen has been removed. Pollen is what makes honey an excellent way to reduce allergies. Some honey is actually corn syrup or sugar syrup. Corn syrup and sugar syrup are much more inexpensive to produce. Supporting a local beekeeper helps the economy because it encourages a small business.
Anyone can help honey bees by planting pollinator friendly plants that bloom from April to October, by reducing the amount of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides they use, and by supporting a local beekeeper. So how are you going to help the honey bees?
If someone is interested in becoming a beekeeper, they should read books, join a club, and take a beginning beekeeping class. We shared about our favorite books here and here and the Iowa Honey Producers Association has list of Iowa classes and clubs on their website.
After I gave my presentation, I spoke with my judge. I was selected to give my presentation at the Iowa State Fair. I was very excited to be able to share my love of bees once again.
On July 9th, we inspected our hives at our Squash Yard. One of the hives already had two supers on it. The other one would most likely need supers added to it.
The homeowner at our squash hives put a bird bath out for the bees. She put rocks in the water so that the bees would not drown.
It is a really beautiful way to provide water for the bees.
Here we are beginning the hive inspection. Bethany is looking in her hive’s supers. They had not done much in the supers yet. Abigail is still putting her gloves on.
Abigail’s bees had quite a few frames to build out. That is why they did not get supers put on as quickly as Bethany’s hive got supers.
Bethany’s hive had lots of young pupae. We know they are young because of the light colored cappings.
Both Bethany and Abigail inspected the bottom boxes of their hives. Both queens laid lots of brood.
The squash hives were building up nicely. We added two supers to Abigail’s hive. We decided to add two supers at once because the supers had filled out frames. Because the bees do not have to make beeswax, they are able to work harder at making honey.
Fun Fact: Before Bethany straps her hive down she takes of her suit. She does this because she gets really hot in her suit.
The squash hives seemed to be doing really good. We were excited to see how they would continue to grow.
Every summer the Iowa Honey Producers Association has a field day. The summer field day often includes hands on demonstrations. This year IHPA and CIBA put the field day on together. It was held at the Iowa State University Horticulture Farm.
After we got our name tags and agendas, we started helping. Olivia, Bethany, and Mom collected people’s desserts and put them where they belonged. Abigail handed out agendas.
After welcome and announcements, the first speaker was Ginny Mitchel. Ginny Mitchel is the 2019 Iowa State Fair apiary division judge. She spoke on What You Need to Know about Entering Items into the State Fair. First Ginny explained why someone would want to enter the state fair. The number one reason someone would want to enter the state fair i because it is fun! (And you can earn a little cash.) Entering honey in the state fair also represents beekeeping in Iowa because thousands of people walk by the IHPA booth at the state fair. A full honey display creates a great opportunity to educate the public about honey. In order to enter honey in the state fair, one must have honey to enter into the state fair. Last year (2018), we had honey in July so we harvested, extracted, bottled it, and entered it in the state fair. This year (2019), we did not get any honey so we did not enter honey in the state fair. If a beekeeper is planning on entering honey in the state fair, he or she must be extra careful when removing it. If he or she uses Bee Go (or other scented methods) or smoke, he or she must be careful not to use too much. A honey judge has a pallet that can detect the slightest amount of non-honey substance. How honey is extracted does not matter if it is to be entered in the state fair. State fair honey should be dealt specially. It should be warmed up a little bit so that it does not have any crystals in it. It should be strained through multiple metal strainers. It should be strained through the biggest sizes first and the smallest size last. State fair honey should always be put in a clean bucket. State fair honey should be strained through the foot of a nylon when it is poured into the final jar. When putting the honey in the final jar, the jar should not be filled all the way. The almost full jar should sit for 24 hours. After 24 hours, the bubbles at the top of the honey should be popped and seran wrap should be used to remove the foam. The honey should then sit for another 24 hours before being filled all the way. Ginny then discussed some of the common problems that arise with certain jars. Honey bear jars tend to be prone to bubbles. Queenline jars should always be topped with a plastic lid without a seal so that the judge can open each jar easily. The most perfect jars should always be chosen.
Next, Finny Michel talked about baskets. Baskets are all about the appeal (Is someone going to want to buy this basket?) never on the individual products. Although Ginny did say she likes to try out all the products. Non of the products can have identifying marks unless they are from some other apiary.
Comb honey is another product that can be entered in the state fair. Comb honey can only comb from a robust hive. Comb honey can be made by putting three deeps worth of bees in one deep then adding a comb honey super the following day. Comb honey frames must be perfectly placed and perfectly clean in order for the bees to make perfect comb honey. Two days after putting the comb honey super on, the beekeeper should go back and check to see how much beeswax the bees have built. The comb honey should be pulled of the hive as soon as it is capped so that the cappings do not get dirty. Bee Go should never be used when comb honey is harvested. A beekeeper must be careful not to tip comb honey frames. A helpful tip Ginny gave is to make a plexi-glass template for cutting comb honey. This will make sure that every comb honey is the exact same size. The piece of comb honey should fit snuggly inside the box. A parring knife should be used to cut the comb honey. Keeping the knife in warm water when not in use helps make it easier to cut the comb honey. One must be careful not to crack the cappings when cutting comb honey. Honey should be allowed to drain and then it should sit for two weeks. After it has sat, it should be stored in the freezer.
Chunk honey is very similar to comb honey. One must have both comb honey and liquid honey in order to enter chunk honey. Chunk honey is liquid honey that has a chunk of comb honey in it. The liquid honey should be harvest, extracted, and bottled as stated above. The comb honey should be processed as stated above for chunk honey. The scrapes from comb honey work great for chunk honey.
Creamed honey can also be entered in the state fair. The honey that is going to be turned into creamed honey should be treated just like the liquid honey that is going to be entered in the state fair. The started used to make cream honey should be as nice as the honey one wants to enter in the fair. Creamed honey should be made according to the normal method. We blog about how to make creamed honey here. Creamed honey should be checked regularly and all foam should be removed.
Next, Ginny Mitchel discussed candles for the state fair. Here is our tutorial on making beeswax candles. If the candles being entered are going to be container candles, Ginny said to only use glass. Any candle entered in the state fair should not have any pollen, propolis, or signs of shrinkage. Wax should never be bleached for state fair candles. If the candle is not coming out of the mold well, the mold with the candle in it should be put on ice. If the candle develops a white substance on the outside, it should be rubbed with a nylon.
Following Ginny Mitchel, Melissa Burdick spoke on Trees for Bees. She talked about all kinds of trees and shrubs that are great for bees. When choosing trees to plant for bees, one should consider when they bloom, how winter hardy they are, if they are native or not, and if they have some characteristics that may not be desirable.
After Melissa Burdick spoke, we had lunch and then the IHPA Honey Queen spoke about her recent activities.
The first break out sessions we participated in was a queen marking demonstration led by Pat Ennis. Both Bethany and I marked a drone. We used drones because unlike queens they are not worth forty dollars each. To mark the drone you had to first grab him by his wings. Then you pinched all his legs with you thumb and first finger. Finally, you used one of the special pens to mark the back of his thorax.
After marking drones, we went to the break out sessions about mite count methods led my Randall Cass. He showed the alcohol, powdered sugar, and ether roll version of the mite count. As we have only ever done the alcohol roll, it was a great way to see how the other two are done.
The next break out session was a hive inspection with the state apiarist Andy Joseph. He just simply walked the group through how he inspects a hive.
Following the break out sessions two of the researchers talked about their work with prairie strips.
After the prairie stips there was an expert panel Q&A. The panel consisted of Phil Ebert and Curt Bronnenburg (two commercial beekeepers), Andy Joseph (the state apiarist), and Randall Cass (a researcher at ISU). The panel was asked whether or not they use queen excluders, how they harvest honey, the difference between reversing boxes and spliting, how to prepare for winter, what causes swarms, pollen pattys, varroa mites being a huge issue right now, EFB, among a couple other things. Note: If you would like to learn more about some of these subjects, I have linked one of our blog posts were we talk about them. It was interesting to hear how the commercial beekeepers and researcher beekeepers treat their hives differently from a hobbyist beekeeper.
Finally, Andy Joseph talked about the state of the Iowa Honey Bees. The bees went into winter after a bad fall. Our winter was hard on the bees. The mortality rate was around 60%. The spring was wet and late. This years spring was perfect for EFB. However, the bees look surprisingly decent for the weather. Varroa mite loads have been relatively low.
The IHPA Summer Field Day was a great day of learning. The speakers were excellent. Ginny Mitchel was our favorite speaker.
Beekeeping 101 was about products of the hive, fall management, and pests and diseases.
Honey is what most people think of when they think about honey bees. Most people, however, do not know just how much work it takes to get the honey off the hive and into bottles. Honey should be removed from the hives before a mite treatment is put on. Honey is often harvest in July, August, or September. Honey should be harvested on a sunny day when most of the foragers are out. Most beekeepers will suit up completely when harvesting honey because the bees are often more aggressive. A beekeeper can use a fume board and fumigant, leaf blower, or a bee brush to remove bees from honey frames. At most, a colony should be lightly smoked. Heavily smoking the colony could cause the honey to taste or smell like smoke. All the hives’ in the apiary covers should be removed so that the bees focus on protecting their hive and not on robbing out other hives. Only fully to mostly capped honey frames should be harvested. This helps ensure that the honey’s moisture content is as close to 18% as possible. Harvested frames should be placed in an empty super that is on top of a outer cover with an outer cover over it. The two main ways to extract honey is the crush and strain method and the extraction method. The crush and strain method is simply scraping the honey comb off the frame and crushing it over a strainer. The honey goes through the strainer and the beeswax stays above the strainer. This method is cheap, but the drawn out frames are lost. The extraction method is cutting the cappings off the frame with a hot knife or a bread knife before putting the frames in the extractor. Once all the honey is removed from the frames, the frames can be put back on the hives and the bees will clean the frames up. Honey can be bottled as soon as it is extracted. Our blog post Bottling and Labeling Honey explains how we bottled and labeled our honey last year.
Comb honey is honey that is left in the comb. No extractor is needed for comb honey. The bees must build comb honey on foundationless frames. The comb honey is cut out of the frame using a special cutter. Comb honey should be extracted when the cappings are white. Yellow cappings are too hard. There is a high demand for comb honey and it sells quickly as long as a good market can be found.
Beeswax is a versatile product of the hive. Beeswax can be used to make candles, a variety of creams, and lip balms. Beeswax must be cleaned before being used for any product. A solar melter could be used to clean the wax. There are a variety of styles of solar melters. Bethany plans on making one for 4-H and we will blog about it after she has made it. We use a slow cooker with water in it to clean our wax. Here is the link to our blog post about purifying wax. A similar method to the slow cooker method can be used with a pot and a muslin bag.
Propolis can be harvested from a hive using a propolis trap. Propolis traps can be bought from some of the commercial beekeeping companies.
Pollen can also be harvested from a hive using a trap. Pollen traps are pretty easy to find and most commercial beekeeping companies sell them. A beekeeper must be careful not to leave a pollen trap on a hive to long as it can deprive the hive of pollen.
After honey is harvested, a beekeeper will begin fall work. A beekeeper should treat his colonies for varroa mites as soon as the supers are removed from the hive. Treating for varroa mites allows the bees to be as healthy as possible going into winter. Colonies should be treated with antibiotics only if they need it. Antibiotics are used to treat for AFB, EFB, and other bacterial diseases. Hives should be given plenty of time to build up for winter. Hives should weigh at least one hundred and ten pounds going into winter. Entrance reducers and mouse guards should be put on hives when the temperature starts getting cool overnight.
There are many pests and diseases that can be found within a colony. Most pests and diseases are just results of a stressed hive not being able to fight against them. All colonies have varroa mites. Varroa mites must be treated for. Colonies should be treated for varroa mites at least in the fall and in either the winter or the spring. Varroa mites will cause little damage to a hive as long as they are kept at a small number. American Foulbrood (AFB) is the worst disease a hive can get. AFB is so bad because there is no way to treat for it once a colony has it. Antibiotics can be used, but often work more as a preventative for AFB than a treatment. If a colony has AFB, at least the frames and the non-queen bees should be destroyed. European Foulbrood (EFB) is a much less destructive disease. EFB can be treated with antibiotics and nothing has to be destroyed if a colony has EFB. Small hive beetles and wax moths can take over weak hives. They both can also destroy stored wax frames if the frames were not stored properly. Tracheal mites can be a threat to a colony, but are barely talked about due to varroa mites. Tracheal mites weaken the bee they are feeding on. If a colony is heavily infected, a large amount of bees may have a shortened life span. Nosema is often found in stressed colonies. Nosema can be treated for and the colony can easily recover from it. Wasps, ants, and flies may try to rob out a colony. If the colony is strong enough, they can easily fight off these invaders. Mice occasionally find a winter home in hives. A mouse guard will prevent any mice from getting in the hive. Toads and skunks occasionally eat honey bees.
A beekeeper should assess their colonies health every time they check their colonies. If they see something that does not look right, they should research it, call out a state inspector if need be, and take the proper actions against it. Sometimes there is nothing a beekeeper can do about their bees.