One of the most important aspect of beekeeping is preparing for winter. Winter prep starts in September almost immediately after honey is harvested. We checked our hives for varroa mites last September. Varroa mites are parasitic mites that feed on the bees fat body. Most beekeepers treat the bees to kill the varroa mites. After we knew how many varroa mites were in the hive, we treated for mites with Apiguard.
In this picture, Bethany and I are evaluating our hives winter stores.
Bethany’s hive had a ton of stored honey. My hive had quite a bit, but not as much as Bethany.
Mom and Olivia prepared the hives at our home for winter. They treated the hives and checked their honey stores.
Here are Olivia and Mom inspecting Maylyn Sorority.
This nuc continued to become weaker and weaker over the fall.
Mom and Olivia put dry mop pads in the hive to treat for small hive beetles. Small hive beetles are little bugs that eat the pollen in the hive. If the hive is weak, small hive beetles can definitely kill the hive.
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.
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.
A varroa mite count should be done in July or August. Three mites to three hundred bees is the common threshold. A mite kit is essential for beekeepers. Mite kits include a jar, powdered sugar, ether, or rubbing alcohol, and something white such as a bucket or a big lid to dump the bees onto. A mite roll is when about half a cup of bees are poured into a jar with powdered sugar, ether, or rubbing alcohol. Then the jar is covered and shook hard. Finally, the bees are poured out on something white and the beekeeper can count the mites.
From time to time a beekeeper will move a hive. Before a hive is moved, the beekeeper should walk the terrain he will be walking when he moves the hive. A hive should be moved at night when the foragers are in for the night. A screen should be stapled in front of the hive entrance. The hive should be ratchet strapped to ensure the hive stays together.
Winter preparations should start in July and August. Good, healthy, clean, fat, strong bees is the goal of winter prep. Mouse guards should be put on the hives when the night temperatures start to get cool. The hives should have a wind break during the winter. Some beekeepers choose to feed their bees in the fall. We fed our bees and put dry sugar on top of the hive as emergency stores. A beekeeper may choose to insulate or wrap a hive for winter. A hive should be mountain camped (have dry sugar on top) by early December. Hives should be quickly checked on warm weather days throughout the winter.
In spring, surviving hives’ boxes should be unwinterized. Their boxes should be reversed and the bottom boards should be cleaned.
Beekeeping 101 was a good reminder of what we learned in 2018. After taking the class, we were excited to get back to working with the bees.
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.
The Des Moines Backyard Beekeepers (DMBB) February meeting was about thermal mite treatment. Thermal mite treatment is a varroa control method which takes advantage of the honey bee’s high tolerance to heat. It was discovered by beekeepers who observed that feral bee colonies that lived in metal roofed sheds having high daytime temperatures had a higher resistance to varroa mites.
One of the main advantages of thermal mite treatment is that it treats varroa mites on all stages of honey bees. This includes the varroa mites in capped brood. No chemical treatment can make this claim. Thermal mite treatment does not contaminate any wax or honey. The treatment can be used during a honey flow if needed. There is also minimal risk to the operator. The bees cannot be harmed by thermal mite treatment if the process is well controlled. Another big advantage is that thermal mite treatment seems to be effective on Small Hive Beetles as well as varroa mites.
A disadvantage to thermal mite treatment is that the process is slow. The treatment takes several hours per hive to complete. There is also an equipment expense that is much higher than buying a chemical. Because the treatment is powered by electricity it may be difficult in remote locations.
Thermal mite treatment works because when the temperature reaches roughly 102 – 106 degrees Fahrenheit the surviving varra mites lose the ability to reproduce. If the temperature reaches roughly 115 – 118 degrees Fahrenheit the varroa mites die.
The whole hive should be heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough that the heat soaks through the brood comb. This takes about three hours. This ensures that the entire colony is treated. Thermal mite treatment can even be done at night to ensure the whole colony is treated. Hives should be treated more than once a year. The most critical treatment is in August.
Thermal mite treatment systems can be bought but they are around two hundred dollars a piece! They can also be made, but making them takes some skill.
Thermal mite treatment is a very interesting topic and could become a leading way to treat for varroa mites.
Our first year of beekeeping was filled with learning experiences, challenges, and fun. We loved learning more about the bees as well as learning how to care for them. All our blog posts mentioned are linked.
Because we knew when we were getting out bees, we were able to prepare for the bees by setting out the equipment and making sure it was all level.
The Central Iowa Beekeepers Association is a great group that has meetings every quarter and has an annual auction. We helped at the auction by helping set up, helping consignors sign in, and Abigail took pictures.
We picked up our bees on April 21st, 2018. We got two packages of bees from Spring Valley Honey in Perry, Iowa. When we got home we installed our bees right away. We started with two packages and a established hive.
We built nucs and swarm traps with the help of Mr. Sander. We used the nucs to put splits in and put up the swarm trap in hopes of catching a swarm.
We inspected our hives for the first time on April 23rd, 2018. Our bees had moved into their hives and had found their queens.
We inspected our hives on April 27th, 2018 to make sure that the bees had released their queens and were beginning to fill out the frames. We found Abigail’s queen and saw eggs in Bethany’s hive, Lakti. Maylyn Sorority was doing well.
We put up a swarm trap at our house and a swarm trap at a friend’s house. Unfortunately, we did not catch a swarm.
The bees had begun to build out their second deep on May 31st.
We have worked on expanding what products of the hive we make and sell. The bees made honey which we harvested, extracted, bottled, and now sell. We make candles from the beeswax from the hives. We also make two different salves.
In December, Bethany, Abigail, and Mom worked a vendor fair for the Sanders. This fair was in Polk City. It was in a small building so it made it easy to talk to the other vendors and we enjoyed talking to them. We kept records of sales, rearranged product in the store nearby where the Sanders sell some honey, and packed up by ourselves.
Here is Bethany and Abigail behind the table.
Some important things to bring to a vendor fair are chairs to sit in, something to give away (in this case the bee erasers), and bags to put the sold products in. It is also important to make sure clothing is professional, but also represents your product. That is why we wore our bee shirts. We really enjoyed working this vendor fair and learned a lot from it.