Category Archives: Andy

News from our State Apiarist, Andy Joseph

Hello from indoors. As I write this, the Iowa Honey Bee Day event is planned for tomorrow morning at the Capitol. Forecast of -6oF for the morning, I believe the coldest of the year. Right now I just keep thinking, “I hope my truck starts”! It always does… I’m looking forward to seeing several of you there. It has been a good time these last couple years, and it creates a great presence of our beekeeping industry down among the legislators.

Tons of thanks to Jamie and all involved! It’s been neat to see the IHPA Facebook updates of cities across Iowa which have signed onto the proclamation in celebration of Honey Bee Day as well.

I still don’t have any great insight into how our bees are wintering across the state, but from what I’ve been hearing, things are going pretty well, overall, so far. Losses seem relatively few. Deadouts I’ve seen personally seem to be mite-related over anything else. These last couple winters have been fairly rough. We still have a ways to go but even if our loss numbers double over the next 6 weeks or so, I think we’ll still come out better than 2018 and 2019! …That observation is both encouraging and depressing depending on your perspective. It would be incredible to catch a decently early spring and open boxes of well-wintered bees all ramping up nicely.

Beginner bee courses are coming along nicely. The amount of new interest in beekeeping never ceases to amaze. Welcome to any new BEELINE readers! I’ve visited several classes here and there and have been impressed with the enthusiasm and interest in getting started off right. We have a lot of good course instructors dedicated to helping new beekeepers succeed. There sure is a passion (and obsession) in practicing beekeeping that goes beyond other industries and interests.

The CIBA winter meeting went really well – despite nature trying its hardest to squash the event. I was sad to miss Larry Connor. I always enjoy what he has to share, and I really like checking out everything new from Wicwas Press. His flight plans were nothing but delays and cancellations but at least his books made it to Iowa! 

Thank you to Dr. Wu-Smart and Sheldon Brummel for making the trip and presenting their work. The Great Plains Master Beekeepers program sounds excellent, and I’d certainly encourage anyone to check it out. Master Beekeeping Certification is all about becoming a proficient, successful beekeeper regardless of scale, becoming a leader in the local beekeeping community, and becoming a knowledgeable and confident instructor, speaker and media contact. This program seems like a really nice framework to develop these skills and talents. I’m excited to see it take off.

Here’s to a great Iowa Honey Bee Day and an early Spring!

Quarterly Update from Andy

Hello fellow bee people.

Quick cold fall, but a nicer, sunny day as I’m writing this.  We never really got our indian summer did we?  Lots of syrup feeding this fall for many of us.  And pollen sub sure does help keep queens laying.

Mite treatment was a little sketchy this season.  Many beekeepers treated their hives this fall using trusted products and good timing, but still had trouble making the mites die.  It didn’t seem to be a resistance issue to any one particular product.  Beekeepers who re-checked mite counts following treatment could at least give another dose or try again using a different product.  And often these secondary treatments were more effective.  Of course earlier is always better than later for killing mites, so we’ll all see how well wintering goes.

Nearly all the bees headed out of state have been moved to their warmer locations.  More and more smaller-scale beekeepers are participating in the almond pollination gold rush each year.  I saw a lot of great looking, strong hives in these “Exit checks”, I also saw a lot of still-struggling hives.  Many hives just wanted to shrink.  I had troubles with this in my own bees, more than I’ve ever experienced.   A hive might look a little small and get put together with another, then a visit the following week might find it again to be on the small side, so another would be combined…  If you had to deal with this dwindling, I hope your numbers have stabilized and your bees are beginning winter with both strength and weight.

It won’t be long til it will be a good idea to get out on that special sunny mid-40s degree day and pop some covers and heft some boxes.  See if the bees have moved up to the top boxes.  See if the boxes are still heavy or if they’ve burned through food stores.  I believe these winter checks have become more important in recent years.  If bees are upstairs and they’ve eaten quite a bit, you can always add more food.  Feed “winter patties” or dry sugar or fondant or candy boards … just be sure they have access to good empty calories.  With the cost of bees as high as it is, saving even just a hive or two from starvation will likely cover your cost of this emergency winter feeding.

Winter is also prime time to fix up that aging empty equipment. Spring comes fast.  My boxes are as ratty as any of the worst of yours, so this is mostly a note to self.  What I really should do is create a hive body burn pile and buy new … instead what I hope to do is scrape and paint anything solid enough to withstand another few seasons of handling.  Frames can be scraped.  Greasy old black combs melted down or discarded. These winter chores are so easy to procrastinate, but it really is rewarding to get good and cold now and then.

Enjoy the winter. Come on springtime.  See you all soon.


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, 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 .  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: