Checking the Bees at the Science Center of Iowa

Last fall, we pulled the bees out of the observation hive at the Science Center of Iowa and put them into a nuc. We hoped this would help them survive winter.

Here I am pulling out a frame to inspect it.

The hive was pretty small. We expected this because they had been kept in an observation hive all summer.

Bethany also helped inspect the hive. We fed them both sugar syrup and pollen patty during the fall to help them build up.


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.


Removing Supers from the Squash Hives

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 101: Week Five

Week Five of Beekeeping 101 was a wrap up week.

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.


February 2019 DMBB – Thermal Mite Treatment

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.


Mountain Camping 2018

The second day of the IHPA conference is coming soon. We apologize for the wait.

Mountain camping is when sugar is put on the top of a beehive to give the bees emergency stores for the winter. Mountain camping also acts as a moisture absorbent and prevents moisture from dripping on the bees.

Here is Abigail pouring sugar into ice cream buckets to carry out to the hives. Each hive got about a gallon bucket full of sugar.


We put newspaper on the top of the top deep and got the paper damp. We would have liked to use a spray bottle to get the newspaper wet, but did not have one so we sprinkled the water on top by hand.


Here is Abigail sprinkling water on the newspaper.


Here is Abigail pouring the sugar on top of the wet newspaper. We then sprinkled water on the sugar to keep the sugar packed together.


This video shows Abigail pouring the sugar on the newspaper. (Click on the video to play.)


We just poured the sugar right on top. The bees go down into the hive to avoid the sugar. (Click to play video.)


We added sugar throughout the winter. Some of the hives ate the sugar faster; others ate the sugar very slowly.