Quarterly Update from Andy, March 2018


Spring feels like it’s finally around the corner as I’m writing this. From what I hear, this winter has been pretty rough. I’ve gotten very mixed reports of winter survivorship. This wasn’t an extreme winter by any measure, though we have had some serious cold from time to time. If the bees were of compromised condition last fall, they probably aren’t around anymore, and it’s time to try again. This seems to be truer each year. Maybe those who are having great winter successes are just afraid to speak about it out loud for fear of jinxing their strong live clusters!

I’ve been asked a few times already what I might recommend as a spring mite treatment. This is a common annual topic of conversation, and it’s a good subject to think about. Some of you have dosed your hives a time or two over winter with oxalic acid, either in syrup or by vaporization. If done while the bees were largely broodless, you ought to have had a great mite kill, and hopefully may be able to avoid coping with springtime mite treatment stress. If this is you … take a mite count in order to KNOW this, rather than assume anything. For the rest of us, what’s the “best” option?

Right now, I’m recommending Formic Pro. Have you seen this yet? It’s the new version of MiteAway Quick Strips. The biggest difference between Formic Pro and MAQS seems to be its shelf life. If you’ve used MAQS, expect pretty much the same. The fiber pad material has been “upgraded” while the formic acid active ingredient remains unchanged. The biggest issue over years with a variety of formic acid treatments is the delivery. Too “flashy” and brood is harmed, maybe queens too. Too slow / low of a dose and mites aren’t killed effectively. So, we’re aiming for that sweet middle ground. MAQS has been a good product, though not without problems – particularly if used in hotter weather, or if used beyond its short expiration date. Hopefully this new version fixes at least one of those shortcomings.

Formic acid might be a good choice considering our short list of approved options. I’m not convinced an oxalic treatment is effective in spring, since bee brood is its Achilles’ heel. I’m not a fan of Apivar in spring, since the treatment takes five weeks or so followed by a “cool down” period to avoid contaminating any honey for human consumption. Apiguard is far better as a fall treatment, given its minimum required daytime temperatures and its month-long treatment period. Hopguard 2 has been squirrelly, requiring multiple applications and struggling to control mites when colonies are significantly brooded up. Apilife Var is very similar to Apiguard, so I personally might save it as a late summer treatment option (and I wouldn’t consider it to be a “rotation” opposite Apiguard). I don’t really like Checkmite or Apistan due to both, resistance issues and chemistry. The list goes on … and basically brings me to a formic acid product, either MAQS or Formic Pro.

Whatever you choose, give yourself a pat on the back / buy yourself a beer, because without live bees coming through winter you wouldn’t get to make these fun decisions. Feed them! Get them treated! Build them up! Split them! And get ready for another awesome season.

See you. Andy

Quarterly Update from Andy :: 12/2017


Sunny but cold as I’m writing this.  Time to get adapted to working indoors for the next couple months.

Thanks for a good year.  I’ve enjoyed getting out on the road and working bees with a good number of you.  I got to meet a ton of new beekeepers this year, which is among my favorite parts of this work. This past decade has at least tripled the number of beekeepers in our state.  The IHPA membership has quadrupled I believe.  And today I realized that no less than 36 beekeeping courses are being offered this winter.  By contrast, there were 8 courses offered in ’08 and ’09.  Amazing, right?

Most recently the inspection work has focused on the bees being moved out to the almonds.  I enjoy this work because of the great group of commercial beekeepers who live here in Iowa.  These inspections and the related paperwork allow me to have at least a quick point of contact with these guys.  I feel lucky to know them and I typically end up learning a thing or two in our short conversations during this busy time of their year.

Here’s hoping your bees are tucked away nicely for the winter.  There was plenty opportunity to get a good mite treatment accomplished and get them heavy with stores of food.  Hopefully things have come along well for each of you.  On a warmer day, consider checking them to be sure they haven’t eaten too much already.  While the milder temperatures over the past month allowed us ample opportunity to care for the bees, it also allowed the bees to stay pretty active and burn right through their stores if you weren’t paying close enough attention.  On a 40+ degree sunny day you can pop a lid and check to be sure they’re clustered low with plenty of food above them.  I like to find a good day or two around the first of the year to peek in on them.  If they’re cluster high in the hive right under the lid and the box is no longer as heavy as it was, I’ll give them some winter food.  This supplemental feeding sure is a lot cheaper than buying replacement bees.  I’ve done a lot of “mountain camp” dry sugar feeding in mid / late winter, and it works well but is messy and can be a bit wasteful.  The winter patties being sold now are great and aren’t too expensive especially if you have just a handful of hives.  I encourage you to throw a couple/few on at a time as needed.

For all the hype and excitement over oxalic acid use during the warm season, I’m still not convinced at all that it’s worth your time.  Hopefully I’ll eventually eat my hat, but I think while brood is present, all OA provides is false confidence.  Now we’ve come to the time of year when OA could be just the ticket.  Now that we’re more-or-less broodless, all we need is that good window of a couple days in the mid-40s.  A blast of vaporized OA or a dribble of OA in syrup into loosely clustered bees could kill nearly all the mites remaining in the hive.  No brood = no hiding place, and great exposure.

Enjoy the cold and the indoors and the familytime and the holidays and the plan-making for spring.


Topics for the upcoming year

Labeling/Active water content (Rueber, Feb. 2017)

Winter prep

Swarm prevention

Making splits (Sander, May 2017)

Checking for mites (Folkerts, Aug 2017)

Treating mites — heat and chem

Feeding in spring

Feeding in winter

Bottles (BL Plastic, July 2014)

Winter care (Jan 2017)

Harvest (Aug 2014 w/ Andy, potluck)

Potluck (multiple through the years)

Heat treating for mites (Ray, 2016 and Damon, 2017)

On-site inspections of top bar and langstroth hives (multiple, all years from 2011)

Making nucs (Sander, April 2016)

Movie viewing, Queen of the Sun (Feb. 2016)

How you got into beekeeping and how it’s been for you

Hive theft (Rob Taylor, June 2017)

Flow hive (sander, Sept 2016) and honey harvest (Sander, July 2017)

Verticomb hive (Justin, Sept 2017) and inspection (anticipated 2018)

State fair entry (Andy, May 2014)

Queen rearing (julia’s note: i think this is too much material here for one meeting)

Craig’s weight and temp tracking

advocacy/city ordinances

Vet Feed Directive (Dr. Jacobson, April 2017)

Quarterly Update from Andy, Sept. 1, 2017

By Andy Joseph


Quite a season.  Haven’t seen any major bee health issues for a little while.  Bees seem to do so well in years of a more wet spring followed by a hotter, dry summer.  Lots of pollen still coming in this late August.  Must be at least a little nectar still coming as well.  I’ve been pulling honey and extracting in my “free time” this past week, and the bees have really been pretty well behaved.  No crazy robbing or fighting me yet.  The crop is good – this is true for most people I’ve talked to around the state.  Boxes are full and heavy.  Moisture content is fine to fairly low.  Frames of foundation were drawn into nice combs well through July.  Nearly every year, that last round of supers comes back in light or even empty, especially boxes without drawn combs.  Beekeepers’ optimism… this year most of that final round of supers got drawn and filled.  Very happy about this, though the greedy side of me wonders if I could’ve gotten lucky with adding even another box to some.

The fair was great.  Tons of fun.  Glad it’s over.  See you all back there in 11.5 months.  Thank you to everyone that worked there in the booth and to everyone who brought such quality entries.  I met a lot of “new” people there this year.  Had the opportunity to meet and work with several of the IHPA scholarship youth – impressive bunch all around.  Thank you to Connie and Heidi and Rhonda and Doyle and all the incredible Vannoys – Carly, Carole, Scott – and the newly Mr.-and-Mrs. (congrats!) Foley and Maia and to the unstoppable Brandon Raasch.  These are people who seemingly never stopped working from before it started until after it was over.

Many of you have heard that Arvin Foell (longtime beekeeper, IDALS Apiary Inspector, and many years of service as CIBA President) was in a terrible auto accident.  Pictures of his smashed truck are horrific.  Arvin is a lot tougher than he lets on. He hasn’t had an easy couple of years, but just keeps charging on.  I just heard today that he has escaped the hospital and is at home to continue recovery.  I’m ridiculously happy for this news.  Hopefully by the time you read this he’ll be back into his hobbies of pole vaulting and hot yoga.  Get healed Arvin.  You have a state full of beekeepers thinking about you.

It’s getting late and I must get up and out early tomorrow to head over to Sioux City to meet with a great group of beekeepers.  Can’t quit yet though – I haven’t harped about mites.  This time last year, mite counts were awful for way too many beekeepers, including myself.  Numbers that seemed acceptable mid-season turned ugly by the time honey supers were pulled.  Colonies were crashing due to mite pressure and all the associated viruses.  Happy to report that, at least for the beekeepers I’ve recently visited, the mite counts haven’t been quite so foul this year.  They’re still too high – nearly all requiring treatment, but generally not as bad as the numbers last year.  Don’t get comfortable.  Check your hives and kill the mites.  Make sure you have good, laying queens.  Make sure they’re healthy by every knowable measure.  I encourage you to feed them pollen sub and syrup into the fall to help boost their nutrition, extend healthy brood rearing, and ensure adequate food stores for wintering.

Take care everyone.  See you!

Quarterly Update from Andy

Julia’s note: The Central Iowa Beekeepers Association asked the Iowa State Apiarist Andy Joseph to contribute a column to its quarterly newsletter. He gave permission to distribute to other clubs and their respective memberships.  I received this Andy’s first column on June 16, 2017, and present it to everyone below.


It’s June 5th as I’m writing.  It’s sunny and hot and the bees are flying.  The overwintered hives have already made quite a bit of honey around here.  And the new colonies are building up nicely.  Surprising how well a lot of the bees are doing, given the long wet cool spring.  Things are looking good overall now!

If you wind the clock back a few weeks, I was seeing a lot of EFB, mostly milder infections, but the bees mostly have gotten past it now.  Same for chalkbrood infections.  Right around the time a lot of us were making splits and others were receiving their packages, we went through a couple cold rainy snaps, and I think this is what stressed the bees & triggered the infections.  Even saw several dead packages, mostly due to not having access to food. These small colonies need that food right there where they are.  They should be able to be in cluster and still have access to a feeder.  This means a hive top syrup feeder of some sort and a pollen patty, and all should be well for the tiny new hives.  Access to antibiotics has become frustrating and annoying, so help the bees fend off some of these infections by making your splits good & strong, and providing lots of supplemental nutrition.

I’ve received calls and emails regarding small hive beetles (SHB).  We saw more last year than in past years, for sure.  Milder winter, very early warm up in spring and all the right conditions for them through the season = great reproductive success and extra generations of beetles developing in the season.  They’re all over Iowa.  I’m still not scared of them.  Keep your hives strong and healthy – get anything else taken care of ASAP.  Make the size of the hive reflect the size of the colony – not too many extra boxes stacked up.  Keep colonies in full sun.  Keep grass trimmed down around them.  Don’t leave empty equipment / deadouts in the bee yard.  You’ll be fine.  (Note that these guidelines mirror management against wax moths as well…)  All this said, most of the calls & emails I’ve received this year about SHB, have not been SHB!  There are several beetles commonly found in bee hives, and they don’t tend to be pests.  If you poke around in the debris on the bottom board, you’re likely to find at least one species of beetle.  They just scavenge around in the pollen, wax flakes, fungi, etc.  If you find some beetles down on your hive bottom board that sort of look like small hive beetles, but are maybe a bit more slender and not quite the right size, have no concern, they’re not hurting anything. Scroll through an image search for “sap beetles” and you’ll probably find a twin for your specimen.

Iowa State Fair! Oh my god, it’s coming up fast.  Please consider working a shift or two in the IHPA booth.  It’s a great time and really helps keep the IHPA rolling along!  We had a good turn out last year in the Apiary Contests, following a couple “down” years.  I exhibited in several classes for the first time last year, and now I can say with personal experience: It’s a bit of work to get quality exhibits prepared – and it’s definitely worth the effort!  Please consider showing at this year’s fair … an observation hive, creamed honey, beeswax art, a window display, photography, an extracted frame of comb, there are all sorts of classes of competition.  At the upcoming CIBA meeting, June 17 (if this note doesn’t reach you too late), there will be a panel discussion featuring Ginny Mitchell, our Apiary Judge.  Should be interesting, inspiring, and full of tips and tricks. If you think you may be interested in taking part, there is an upcoming deadline of July 14th – you must have ordered your entry tags by this date. You can do this online at www.iowastatefairentry.org .  Tags are still only $1 each for most exhibit classes.  Also, note that you don’t even need to declare what classes you’ll be entering, just the number of classes you hope to enter.  Hope to see you all there.  We had a great display last year – I’m hoping for even better this year!

Julia’s note: After creating an account, State Fair entrants will use the path: Iowa Family Living Entry > Apiary. There are also Open Classes for the Polk County Fair, which has photography and other fine art classes, but not apiary classes. Wouldn’t it be great to see the 4-H building dominated by honey bee images? To see a photo of honey judging, visit my personal blog: http://juliecache.com/2013/08/11/honey-is-an-agricultural-crop/.html

Meeting notes from Hive Theft program

bees, hive theft, iowa, honey
State Rep. Rob Taylor (R) tells us about last year when his bee hives were stolen

Notes from the Bee Rustlers presentation by Rob Taylor @ http://www.iowahoneycompany.com/

News story that explains the situation well: http://www.weareiowa.com/news/local-news/bee-hive-thieves-caught-on-camera/450423320

Best Practices

  • Have a unique identifier for your woodenware such as branding
  • Place hives in an inconspicuous area or make it known that they are under surveillance/being monitored
  • Trackers placed on/in hives
    • GPS $40-60 each and motion activated
    • Tile, price varies. The app is $5 but works only with signal and other tile users https://www.thetileapp.com/
    • Other trackers
  • Cameras, but they tend to anger people
  • Friendly neighbors
  • Register your hive with the state

Other notes

We had a great meeting with roughly twenty people attending, full of technical support and fellowship and ending by looking at Judith’s bees in her top bar hives.

Different markets will determine sales success with respect to creamed honey and bottling choices.

Certified kitchens and related regulations are for real. The Mickle Center has a certified shared kitchen as well as cold and dry storage for rent.  https://wallace.org/community-kitchen/

Upcoming meetings in the area

  • CIBA (6/17 http://centraliowabeekeepers.org/)
  • FBI (6/22 https://www.facebook.com/groups/919550424772695/)
  • IHPA Field Day (out of area, 7/15 https://www.iowahoneyproducers.org/)

Record keeping – How?

Record keeping – What? There are many things to keep track of, including

  •  Weather
  •  Movement of frames between hives
  •  Available forage

Record keeping – Why? To anticipate and prepare for next inspection, etc.

FB groups for Iowa flower identification are numerous, including Iowa Wildflower Report https://www.facebook.com/groups/937730669582578/

DMBB and other bee gear can be purchased here: http://www.cafepress.com/desmoinesbackyardbeekeepers

Feb. 2017 club meeting: Pesticides

We had Mark Lohafer speak about his experience with the IDALS Pesticide Bureau. I appreciated his honesty and the time he took for each person asking a question.

Below are my notes, as well as a handout I made in response to students inquiring about keeping hives near conventionally farmed land. After this meeting, I feel that I will be able to respond better on department activity when asked by students and make informed decisions on hive placement.

dmbb notes pesticide 2 28 17

Pesticide Reporting Resources

Beginning Beekeeping classes — sign up now for 2017

Beginning Beekeeping classes are open for registration now in the area cities of Ankeny, Des Moines, Polk City, and West Des Moines.  There will also be two “thinking about it” classes for folks who are interested but not quite sure that bees are right for them. For details, click for a convenient table below.

des moines area classes 2017

supporting honey bees and beekeepers in the metro Des Moines, Iowa, area