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.


Checking for Eggs in Early July

A few days after we put a queen into a hive, we had to take the queen cage out and check for eggs. Because she is a mated queen she will lay eggs right away after being released from her cage.

We fed Olivia’s hive because we gave them lots of empty frames to build out.

Here is a frame of old larvae and pupae. Notice our dad is observing the scene.


In this corner, you can see larvae and capped brood.


Another frame of old brood. Because they did not see eggs, Mom and Olivia checked the queen cage.


This is what we found in the queen cage. A queen! She had no way of getting out of this cage so we pulled a staple out of the end and put the queen in a new plastic queen cage.


With the queen safely back in a cage in the hive we went to the next hive to look for eggs. This is Mom with a frame with some fresh, white comb.


If you look closely at this frame you should be able to see eggs and larvae. Again this frame has very fresh, white comb. By the the time these eggs and larvae are adults the comb will be brown instead of white.


We packed up both hives and on the next day Olivia and Mom took out the plastic queen cage that the queen had emerged out of so it would not get covered with wax.



Seeing a Queen at Our Squash Hives

We moved splits from our house to a neighbor’s who was down the road from us we moved the boxes with queen cells and waited for the queens to emerge.

Here is Bethany and Abigail looking through the first hive.


Bethany and Abigail were actively flipping the frames.


Here is a picture of the queen! Can you also spot a drone?


It is always exciting to see a queen but is extra exciting to see the queen for her very first time.

The hives are still doing great. Those two queens are awesome!


Moving Hives to a Second Location

In mid June, we moved two of the splits that we made with the Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers to a second location. The second location is in our neighborhood. It is a really convenient location for us.

Both splits were one deep hives when we took them to the second location. We simply closed them up using an entrance reducer, ratchet strapped them tightly, and carried the deeps to the car. We then drove to the second location (the squash yard). We then put down cinder blocks for the boxes to sit on and leveled the blocks. After the blocks were level, we put the hives on top of them. We added a deep to both of the hives and fed the hives 1:1 sugar syrup.


A second location allows us to keep more hives.


June 6th Adventures in our Hives

Beekeeping is full of adventures including replacing queens, harvesting honey, and treating for mites. In late May, we caged the queen from Abigail’s sick hive and put her in my queenless hive.

Here is Abigail scraping off wacky comb. Wacky comb is comb the bees built where the beekeeper does not want it built.


Here is the queen cage with workers who wandered into the cage.


Can you spot the queen in this picture?


What about this picture? Can you spot the queen?


Here is Abigail pouring sugar syrup into a feeder to help the bees fight diseases and pests in the hive.


Look at that brood that is what you want to see with a good queen.


Olivia looking for eggs with the sun over her shoulder.


Can you spot any eggs? There are two in this picture that can be seen. Remember, eggs look like grains of rice.


Look at the fat drone. He has the giant eyes.


Abigail is “painting” the sugar syrup on the foundation to encourage the bees to build comb on the foundation.


Here is mom pouring sugar syrup in her hive.


Here is Olivia closing up her hive. Notice Abigail’s hive (to the left of Olivia’s hive) is closed up with duct tape. We were still in the process of euthanizing them.


We fed our hives to encourage them to build up.


Inspecting the Hives with the State Apiarist

On May 29th, the state apiarist checked our bees with us. We asked him to come over because Abigail was concerned that her hive was sick. The state apiarist’s job is to inspect hives when asked to, to inspect hives coming into Iowa, and to inspect hives or equipment before the hives or equipment are sold.

He looked at Abigail’s hive first. He knew immediately that the hive was sick.


Here he is showing us a frame with sick brood on it. He is explaining what to look for when trying to identify disease.


The brood in Abigail’s hive had some signs of European Foulbrood and some signs of American Foulbrood. American Foulbrood (AFB) is much worse then European Foulbrood (EFB) because it produces spores that can last in the equipment for seventy years.


The state apiarist looked through the whole hive. By the end of the hive inspection, he was not sure if the bees had AFB or EFB. He took a sample of the diseased brood to send to the USDA lab for testing.


One of the signs that a hive has AFB is if the dead bee ropes. The rope test is done by inserting a stick or toothpick into a brood cell with a dead bee in it. the stick is then swirled in the cell and pulled out. If the bee is stretched so that it looks like it is a rope, the hive most likely has AFB. Some of the dead brood roped and others did not in our sick hive. The state apiarist was very confused about our hive.


The state apiarist suggested euthanizing Abigail’s hive to prevent the bees from infecting the other hives at our house. We euthanized them by closing up the hive completely.

Next, the state apiarist checked Bethany’s hive to see if it was infected.


The hive had no signs of EFB or AFB, but it did have a still uncapped queen cell that we had put in the hive. The bees had not allowed the queen to emerge and we have no idea why.


The state apiarist suggested giving Bethany’s hive the queen from Abigail’s sick hive. This would not infect Bethany’s hive because the queen rarely carries an infection that the hive has.

Next, we looked at Maylyn. Maylyn was doing great. They were still working on raising a queen.


The next hive we inspected was Olivia’s hive. They were also doing great.


Next, we checked the nuc with the queen in it. They were doing good. The queen had a beautiful laying pattern.


The other nuc that we had put a queen cell in had signs of EFB. This nuc had also not allowed their queen in the queen cell to emerge. We euthanized this hive as well.

The other split we had made was doing great as well. The queen was laying and the bees were very busy.

The state apiarist commended us on preventing what we suspected was disease from spreading. We washed our suits, washed our gloves with rubbing alcohol, and cleaned our hive tools by putting them in the smoker. All of this helps prevent the disease from spreading to other hives in the apiary.

The results from the USDA were that the hive had EFB. At this point, we looked into getting medicine to treat the other hives, but we could not find a vet to work with us to get the medicine so the hives remained untreated.


Hosting the Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers – May 2019

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Here is everyone trying to spot the queen.


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


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


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


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


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


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


The bottom box also had brood in it.


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


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


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


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


Here is Abigail closing up Maylyn.


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

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

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

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

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

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


Adding Queen Cells to Two Hives

In May, Bethany’s hive, Bamarre, went queenless. They could not queen right themselves so we bought a queen cell to help them along. We also had a queenless nuc, so we bought a queen cell to put in the nuc.

Here is a picture of a queen cell. The orange cages does not allow the bees to tear down the cell.


Here is a picture of a brood frame in the nuc. As you can see there are very few bees or brood in the hive. They are definitely queenless.


We removed all the frames from the nuc and put a brood frame from Mom’s hive to the nuc. The brood frame gave the bees a population boost.


The nuc had laying workers in the hive. So Bethany took the frames up by our garage and shook all the bees off of them. The laying workers are too heavy to fly back to the hive so they die.


Here Mom is adding one of the queen cells to a frame from the nuc.


We put the frame with the queen cell on it right next to the brood frame.


Here Mom and Bethany are looking for a brood frame in Bamarre.


Mom found a great frame.


We put the queen cell on a frame that had brood on it.


We had to wait about a week for the queens to emerge then two more weeks before they started laying.


Building Wax Melter as a 4-H Project.

A wax melter is something I was interested in for a while so finally I chose to build one for a 4-H project. I asked Mr. Sander what he used for wax melters. He showed me his favorite wax melter and gave me suggestions on how to make it better. The wax melter I made was roughly 2 feet by 30 inches.


We picked up wood and I started cutting it with my father’s ever watchful eye on me. I used a table saw to cut the wood.


I put glue in between the wood then I held it tightly together.


Then I drilled a hole in the wood for the screws and twisted a screw into the hole.


Here I am drilling a hole.


After I finished the sides of the box I traced a piece of plywood to the size of the box.


Then I cut the piece of plywood to size.


Next, I added glue to the side so I could attach the bottom.


I drilled holes for the screws so I could attach the bottom. I started in the corners then I did the rest.


I first painted the outside of the wax melter starting in the corners.


I painted three coats of paint.


After I was done painting the outside of the wax melter I let it sit overnight then did the inside.


Here I am doing the second coat.


I also painted another piece of wood that i would use when attaching the plexi-glass.


Here are some of the broken paint brushes. I suggest if you are doing your own wax melter you invest in nice brushes.


Here you can see the plexi-glass is attached.


Here I am hammering a nail into a disposable tin to make holes to strain the wax through. Do this to one pan or get a special grill pan.


I widened the holes with a screw.


Here you can see the broken plexi-glass. Plexi-glass is incredibly brittle especially when cold. You can also see the top pan has an old t-shirt that was cut up in it and wax on top of that. The top pan is the one I put the holes in.


Here is the wax melter in use. I used duct tape as a temporary fix until I got new plexi-glass.


Here is the wax after it went through the wax melter once.


The wax melter got considered for state fair but was not chosen. I am also entering to get a project award for the wax melter.

I am planning on making more to sell at the Central Iowa Beekeepers Association’s Auction in spring.


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.