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.


Cleaning Up After EFB

Upon the State Apiarists suggestion, we euthanized my hive and one of our nucs that had EFB. We talked about why we came to this decision in our blog post Inspecting the Hives with the State Apiarist. We euthanized the hives by taping up all the entrances to that the bees could not leave their hive. After a couple of months, all the bees had died and we were able to clean up the equipment and decide what to keep and what to throw away.

Bethany and I went through the super together. The super was clean enough that we decided to freeze the frames and use them again. This did not risk passing the EFB on because EFB is a brood disease. It is not normally in the super.


Here is what the top of the deep looked like. It also smelled of EFB and dead brood.


Here is a brood frame. As you can see, it is slightly moldy. We decided to throw out the brood frames.


Here is Bethany and I looking through more of the frames. The smell was so bad you could smell it from our front porch.


Most of the dead bees had fallen onto the bottom board. Small hive beetles had invaded the hive and were eating what was left. In order to make sure the small hive beetles did not make it into our other hives, we threw the larvae away.


We then looked in the nuc. The nuc frames were also really gross. We threw the nuc frames away as well.


The nuc frames had a lot more mold then the deep frames.


There is dead brood on this frame. The nurse bees must have died before this brood emerged.


Here is the bottom of the nuc. We threw all the gunk on the bottom away.


In order to ensure that all the traces of EFB were eliminated, I scorched the boxes, bottom board, inner and outer cover, and nuc. We now can reuse all this equipment. I also scorched the hive tool we used to clean the equipment up.


Here I am scorching the inside of the deep box.


Cleaning up equipment is a very unpleasant task, but must be done. We were glad we were able to keep some of the equipment.


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.


Inspecting Green Gables with the State Inspector

In early May, Abigail noticed that something did not seem quite right with her hive, Green Gables. We contacted one of the state inspector and he came out to inspect the hive with us.

Here he is looking at a brood frame.

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He immediately noticed the sick looking brood, but thought that they had probably got chilled. Chilled brood is brood that froze to death because the bees could not keep them warm.

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The state inspector said that the brood had just been chilled. The hive should have started to grow in size. The next hive inspection should show a thriving hive.


May 4th Hive Inspection

On May 4th, we inspected our three hives. All three hives had a super on.

Here we are opening up our hives. Bethany helped Olivia inspect her hive, Primlox.


The bees had not done much in the supers at this point.


Here we are starting to look in the deeps.


Abigail’s hive had a lot less bees then she thought it would have.


In this picture, Olivia is cleaning off burr comb from the top of her frames.


Abigail is looking for eggs on this frame.


Here is Abigail, Bethany, and Olivia looking at frames. The frames leaning against the side of Abigail’s hive is empty.


Here is Mom looking at a frame from Maylyn Sorority. Maylyn is looking strong.


Here is a picture of a frame from Abigail’s hive. The brood does not look right on this frame.


This picture shows brood cells with sunken cappings. Sunken cappings can be a sign of sickness.


Here is the same frame without the bees. Most of the capped brood cells have sunken cappings.


Here is the other side of the frame. This side has more dead pupae on it.


Abigail was concerned that her hive had European Foulbrood. (Blogged about here.) Mom thought that it was only frozen brood. To find out for sure, we contacted the state apiarist to see if he could come out and look at the hive. Because the state apiarist is so busy, it took a while for him to come out.


Beekeeping 101 – Week Four

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.