Preparing for Winter

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.



Abigail

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.



Summary

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.

Abigail

Entering the Iowa State Fair

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.



I tried my hand at a window display. My window display was a variation of my Helping Honey Bees Presentation. I placed third in window displays.



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.

Abigail

Working the IHPA Booth at 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.

Abigail

Petting an “Swarm”

In July, one of our hives absconded from their home. When honey bees abscond, they have decided their old home is unsatisfactory and will go find a new one. Unfortunately when you catch an abscond it often will just abscond again.

We considered catching this abscond, but the wire on the post they choose to land on would have made it difficult.



Absconds, like swarms, are very gentle and can be touched. Mom still suited up and wore gloves to pet them.



Bethany petted the swarm with her bare hand.



I also petted the abscond. I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by.



Our five year old brother fearlessly petted the swarm. We were not surprised as he often stands less then two feet from a hive entrance to observe the bees.



Our other younger brother also petted the swarm after the littlest one did.



In this picture you can see the queen bee separating herself from the cluster of bees. Her attendant bees followed her to take care of her.



Can you spot the queen in this picture? She returned to her cluster and allowed the bees to cover her.



Below is a video we took of the abscond. Click on the image to watch it. Enjoy the random commentary.

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The abscond found a home somewhere other then our equipment. We decided to let the bees decide where their new home would be because they were an abscond not a swarm.

Abigail

Checking Olivia’s Hive and the Nuc

During July we had been keeping a steady eye on our hives because of the strange brood and rapidly decreasing numbers in our hives. During July, the hives really should have been growing!

Below Abigail and Olivia are just starting to check there hives.



Here is a picture of the weird brood we were seeing. You can see punctured cells and you can also see hive beetle larvae on this frame.



Here you can see sunken capped cells. You can also see a dead emerging bee.



Here you can see lots of hive beetle larvae they are the little white/cream colored things sliding over the cell walls.



Here is a frame of mostly empty with a little bit of pollen in the middle.



Here is the bottom board of Olivia’s hive! Look at all the dead bees.



Below is a picture of brood. you can clearly see the holes in many of the cells.



This is a picture of almost all the bees left in the hive. You can tell the numbers have not grown.



Here is a lot of the rest of the bees in the hive. You can see the queen and her worn yellow dot in the corner.



With strange looking brood and dwindling numbers we have to decide what steps to take to help these hive survive to and through winter.

Bethany Kelly

Iowa Honey Producers Association’s Booth at RAGBRAI 2019

On July 23rd, Olivia and I worked the Iowa Honey Producer Association’s (IHPA) booth at RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is an event were cyclist cycle across the state. There are selected stops across the way. One of the stops was at Howell’s Greenhouse and Pumpkin Patch. The IHPA booth had a observation hive, educational hand outs, and honey lemonade!

Before the cyclist started arriving, we helped tape together honey styxs.



Olivia showed cyclist’s where the queen was in the observation hive. I also enjoyed using the observation hive to educate cyclists.



This event was a great opportunity for me to represent my club.



Howell’s Greenhouse and Pumpkin Patch has goats! Olivia got in the pen with them and played with them before we left. Good thing she did not come home with one.



It was a lot of fun for us to share our love of honey bees with people from all around the county.

Abigail

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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bethany

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Abigail

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.

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

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Here we are starting to look in the deeps.

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

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

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Abigail is looking for eggs on this frame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Abigail