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Author Archives: Idiots Keeping Bees

2017 Harvest – It’s a Wrap

We pulled off all the honey supers on Labor Day weekend, and finally extracted on October 14.  One hive, Ole, provided ~90% of the 233 pound honey harvest. That’s our largest harvest to date! We extracted while listening to the Cyclones WHOMP #3 Oklahoma down in Norman. We don’t know if the honey was good luck for the Cyclones or if the Cyclones were good luck for our big honey yield.  😉  Probably both.

FB_IMG_1504416213149We’re old school – hot knives to uncap the honey, spin it out in a 20-frame extractor. With the help of a handy guy gown the street, we upgraded the extractor prior to harvest with a rebuilt motor and reverse switch. Now it works smoooooth as butter.

Two weeks after we removed all the supers we discovered that Ole was queenless. So much for keeping this high performing genetics around.  :\  The colony was in utter collapse, sp we shut it down. A couple weeks after that we discovered that the Italian colony, Lars, had a bunch of honey stored up and lots of bees, but no brood nor apparent queen. (HOLY COW, WE CANNOT KEEP A QUEEN!) in a last ditch effort we found a Buckfast queen still available, ordered it, and installed. We hope she takes and gets that colony through the winter.


Carniolan bees on the left, Italians on the right.

We’ve treated for mites, and been feeding syrup to bolster the winter supplies. Now, we just keep feeding and prepare to winterize when the temps drop. And how do we stay warm in the winter? We drink mead.  😐


2017 Summer Update

It’s been a busy summer. We’re teetering on the edge of a drought,  but did receive a long-awaited rain in mid-July that set the prairie abloom. We have one hive, Ole that is putting up honey like crazy, the others have struggled staying queen right.  Enough words – let’s get to the pictures!

GREAT bee forage!


Was pleased to discover the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship inspector has been on site this week. It’s a great service!

IDALS inspector noted mite numbers on the tops of the hives. We treat each fall, and will be ready to tackle the mites again later this year.

Nice brood frame, light-colored Carniolan queen.

Nice brood frame, Italian queen.

Use of the green frames continue. Here, drones develop, and drones produce more mites. Before the drones emerge we destroy the drone brood, thus, knock out the mites.

Today we got smart, brought a ladder. Here, six-foot tall husband opens up Ole, the big producer.

And finally, short wife had to pose by Ole too. We’ve been pulling off capped honey as fast as we can. A couple dozen frames are already in the basement awaiting harvest. On Ole now, we have six super boxes that are are close to being full and capped. If all our bees were producing like this, we’d be out of hardware.





Ready for Winter. (we think)

Any day now, winter will arrive. On November 25th we winterized our bees. We’ve been feeding syrup since roughy Labor day, and in the months of November put on two rounds of winter patties.

We had cardboard boxes that are waxed so they are relatively wet-weather resistant. They are big enough so that we can slip on-inch thick insulation boards on all four sides. We also put another pine of thick insulation board on top of the inner cover.


Supplies laid out, ready to winterize.


The bees can still got out of their normal entrance at the bottom of the lower hive body, but we also put a PVC tube in a hole in the upper hive body, in case snow blocks the bottom entrance. We decided to use the PVC tube to ensure that the box or insulation doesn’t shift and block the hole during the long winter months.


Hopefully we can get out there during the coming months to drop in more patties. And hopefully we come out of the winter with five good looking colonies. Fingers crossed!







August Update, thorns and all

Well, we continue to have queen issues. No new news there. We had not been out to check on the girls for two weeks. This weekend we discovered that Thor, who is putting up the most honey, is now queenless. The bees were very calm, so we hope that means requeening is in the process. Another two hives that that had been trouble all summer long have finally righted themselves. Now, just survive the oncoming winter and bear some honey in 2017!

We plan to pull honey supers in two weeks. There’s some honey there, but as usual, not as much as we’d like to have found…

8-2016 thistle

Notice the stupid thistle in bloom. Arrrrrg

But here’s something complete different. Robin managed to find trouble while checking the bees, away from the bees. Somewhere out on the prairie there is a bypass pruner stuck in a thick thistle stem, right above a wasp nest. She hates thistles, as each plant can produce what seems like a billion-million seeds. So, while whacking down a monster on the prairie, in big bluestem that is as tall as her head, she noticed wasps pouring out of the nest, just six or so inches from the ground. RETREAT! RETREAT! RUN LIKE A NINNY! For once, she was not stung.

The Green Frames

green frame 2 7-2016

Green frames? What the heck are those? The cells stamped onto the frame are larger – perfect size for making drone (male) brood. And, the green color makes them stand out for easy ID. We’re trying green frames in our colonies this year, as additional method for reducing varroa mite population.

A couple weeks ago we  pulled the green frames out of two of the five hives. Only two colonies had put up drone brood on the green frames, and the drone were about to emerge. The green frames had been in about 3 weeks.

The varroa mite can produce significantly more mites in a drone cell, compared to a worker cell. Why is this? – Drones are a larger bee (thus, their cell is larger), and they take longer to develop. On average, a worker bee emerges in 19-22 days, where a drone takes 24-25 days. These few extra delayed allow more varroa mites to mature, ultimately increasing the overall number of varroa in the colony.

By careful management of the green frames, a beekeeper can pull out the frame before the mites, and drones, emerge. We then put the frames in the freezer to skill the mites, and well, the drones. If the colonies fill the replacement green frames with drone brood, we’ll pull them again, and give them the freezer treatment.

And finally, we only got a trace of rain in June. We’ve gotten about 3″ since July 7 — and that’s a good thing! Nectar should be plentiful, so if we can manage to keep queens, the colonies should be honey-producing maniacs!

green frame 1 7-2016


Cinco de Mayo in the Beeyard

Mark picked up four three-packages of bees today from Spring Valley Honey Farms, and the weather was so beautiful, we installed them this afternoon. Here is the install, in pictures –

5-5-16 packages

Here’s the four three-pound packages on their way to the beeyard. 

5-5-16 queen

We pull the queen cage out of the package to make sure everything looks good. The queen is in the cage, fairly dark in color. Attendant bees are always on the cage trying to take care of the queen.

5-5-16 bee candy

The bees are not showing any aggression to the queen, acceptance seems a given. There is a hard candy plug in the queen cage — we speed up the process by chipping a bunch of it out with a specialized tool (bent paperclip) to make the bees’ job or releasing the queen a bit easier.

5-5-16 queen is set

The queen cage is put in the middle of the hive body.

5-5-16 pakg dump

And the bees in the package are dumped right on top of the queen! We spray them with sugar water to keep everyone calm and easy to handle. 

5-5-16 wide y ard

So, crabby Mongo has been joined by four new hives — Thor, Ole, Lili vonShtupp, and Lars. 

5-5-16 done

We’ll toodle back to the bee yard tomorrow to pick up the boxes and return for our deposit. 


Yesterday, we ran out to do a quick ether roll mite count and put a sticky board in the bottom of the hive, which is another way to detect mite levels in the hive. We’ve never used sticky boards, so we’re leaving it there until late Friday or Saturday. Then, we’ll put in a mite treatment and a new sticky board so we can see the difference in mite numbers. Several days after the treatment we’ll do another ether roll mite count to see how well the treatment worked.

Robin counted eight or nine mites in the roll — then she was stung in the jiggly bits. So, we went for a quick walk (Robin = waddle) away from the bees so that the stinger could be removed. in the process of stinger removal, Mark took off his veil, which promptly resulted in a sting in his ear. So, running in circles and general yelling occurred. Eventually both stingers were removed. And, we gave up counting mites in the quart jar because let’s face it — eight or nine is too damn many mites. Because tomorrow is predicted to be very warm we’re not putting the treatment in until after the heat of the day because the treatment has an  upper temperature for best results.

Another One Bites the Dust

Short post.

We lost the fourth hive of five. Honey still there – queen probably kicked the bucket and the rest of the colony followed suit.   😐


And then there was one. Only one.

Mass Mortality in the Spring :[

Well, to date we had escaped big winter losses. But after four years of beekeeping under our belts, we finally saw a 60% overwintering death loss.

On February 27th the weather was nice and we headed to the bee yard. Two hives were abuzz. Three hives were suspiciously quiet. Sure enough, three of the five were deceased. We suspect starvation. We knew that at least one was going into winter on the light side, but didn’t expect three to to die off after all the fall feeding. (hoover, or click, curser on photos for captions)

As per the norm, mice were having a heyday in the empty hive bodies so we pulled all the hardware back to town for storage.

And, that’s a wrap on these three. We’ve order three bee packages and will restart them this spring, hopefully with splits from the two remaining hives.


Truck is loaded with empty hardware, headed to storage.

And then there were two.


Kind of lonely-looking, eh?


Winterizing, CHECK!

This is a short post on a short subject.

The winter weather in December is not very wintery, thankfully. We got out this weekend and finally winterized the hives. We do this by adding waxed cardboard boxes that are big enough to allow for one inch insulation board on all four sides and the top. To ensure the hives are vented we add a chunk of PVC tubing to keep the insulation in place and a clear path for the bees to enter/exit from the upper hive body.  And, we throw in a couple winter patties as a Plan B nutrition source for the bees.

It was on overcast day and the ladies were not thrilled with our actions. Stinging ensued . . . *sigh*

winterizing 12-2015 1winterizing 12-2015 2winterizing 12-2015 arm 3

Honey Harvest: Done.

sweatbands 10-2015

Prove we’re old/give a darn is busted = we post unflattering, sweaty pictures on the Internet.

Waaaaay back, September 6th, when it was approximately the same temperature as the surface of the sun, we pulled the honey supers out of the bee yard. The honey-filled supers then rested comfortably in the basement near the dehumidifier. We had frames with a good amount of uncapped honey so this is how we get our honey crop dried down to the appropriate moisture for storage.

beeyard post harvest 10-2015


We also pulled the final plug on Lili vonShtupp. We had treated for foulbrood earlier in the summer, but we couldn’t keep the colony queen right. The wax was very dark so we gave it all the heave-ho and will start anew next spring on new frames with new wax with fresh bees.



We had a unnamed nuc that went nuts earlier this summer. The queen crawled out, and took up residence UNDER the nuc in the middle of the pallet. [insert profanity here] We named it Dumba$$. Weeks ago I pulled us much comb out as I could and put in a hive body to see if they’d move over to the wax frames. They are an obstinate lot and refused all human intervention. They laid down even more brood and honey in the middle of the pallet. We gave that colony one more chance to move up into a hive body that we put on top of the pallet. It didn’t work. It was robbed out and dead by early October.

We had planned to spin out the honey the next weekend. But, the better half of our dynamic duo fell prey the ill effects of a double hernia, so it was delayed until October  Meanwhile, we’ll got mite treatment rolling, and started feeding because there is clearly not enough honey stored for winter.


aronia berry 10-2015 Check out the seven gallons of aronia berries in our freezer (shout out to Tom & Liz Kurt for the berries!). We are now combing the internets for a mead recipe for these beauties.




Iowa State Fair Ribbon!!

Iowa State Fair Ribbon!!


BY THE WAY, we entered two different meads in the Iowa State Fair earlier this summer. A couple weeks after the Fair a nondescript enveloped arrived at our house WITH A RIBBON (!). A bronze ribbon, which I think means ‘we feel super sorry that you have to drink this stuff so here is a ribbon the color of poo for almost-last place to make you feel slightly better‘. Actually, we didn’t finish dead last, but more of the middle of the pack. While the ribbon is cool, is is not as cool as the tasting notes from the judges. We are proud to say that the word skunky was not used, not even once, to describe our mead. But, we have a sulfur issue, probably due to the yeast issues we had the start of fermentation due to too-low temperatures. So, in short, the judges told us it looked really, really nice, but didn’t taste quite as nice. We can live with that. Also, we like our mead, so we have that going for us.

Hot knife


On October 11th we finally fired up the new-to-us 20-frame extractor and went to town. Up the upside, no one burned off a hand with the hot knives. It was a pleasant day. Rich Pope (shout out to The Pope!) stopped by and watched the insanity. And third, we harvested ~96 pounds of honey from three hives. It’s not the greatest yield in the world, but after our many queen issues this summer, we’ll take it. Also, we learned the honey extractor needs a new motor. Robin wants a motor that could fire the space shuttle to make harvest go faster. We’l have to see what is actually doable.

Sorry it’s taken so long to post this. Life is nuts.

Tall prairie. Short beekeeper.

Tall prairie. Short beekeeper.