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Southern Iowa Hive Handlers

Bee keeping has been a hobby all throughout history. It has now made its way to Clarke County through the Southern Iowa Hive Handlers club.

“When I started as the director for Clarke County Conservation, I thought it would be great if we could offer a class locally, get people together that had the same interest and who could help each other. ... I had no idea the response I would get,” said Clarke County Conservation Director Scott Kent.

There are different reasons why people want to keep honey bees. Some want them for the honey, to sell or consume it. Some want them for garden production. When they pollinate in a garden or orchard, production increases. Some want them just because they are a benefit to the area and a necessity to the earth.

“We need bees for pollination for food. It’s not just for honey, it’s to keep the world sustained,” said Rose Greif, a beekeeper of nine years who gives speeches around the area about the benefits of bees.

Getting started with a startup package costs around $400 and comes with a standard hive, a suit, smoker, hive tool and bee brush. Then the honey bees have to be purchased. One package of bees is three pounds and costs $125. A nucleus could also be purchased, they have some combs already built and a queen bee already chosen.

“They are a little more established,” said Judy Kjellsen, a newer beekeeper.

“We have to have honey bees to survive,” said Greif.

Honey bees produce one third of our food through their pollination.

“There are probably a lot of people out there that don’t realize how beneficial honey bees are,” said Kjellsen.

To learn in depth about beekeeping, Greif suggests purchasing the book “Beekeeping for Dummies.”

The Southern Iowa Hive Handlers was started by Clarke County Conservation Director Scott Kent. To begin, he called Greif and the club took off from there.

“I had calls from as far as away as Omaha, wanting to know if I could put on a class closer to them. Currently, we have people attending our meetings from Lamoni, Thayer, Chariton, Urbandale besides the local communities. It is a great group and we have a lot of fun,” said Kent.

The club meetings are 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at the Conservation Office at East Lake Park. There are also beekeeping classes taught by Kent or Greif. The next session begins Feb. 8. The classes are six weeks long, for an hour each night. Classes are 7 p.m. Thursdays at Honey Hills Event Center. There is no fee for the class, though there is an $8 book that is available for purchase but not required. To sign up for the class call Rose Greif at 641-414-2989 or Scott Kent at 641-342-3960.

“It’s kind of fun to go to the classes and also the meetings because you exchange so many ideas. Everybody has a different experience with their bees,” said Kjellsen.

“The more you want to learn, the group is more than willing to help you,” said Greif.

“I think that is what makes our group unique from other bee groups around the state – we are able to utilize the park and office to put on educational programs versus just having someone talk about it. Our group is simple– no fees, no officers, just a group having fun learning from each other,” said Kent.

Even people who are allergic to bees can join the club or take the class. That does not disqualify someone from being a potential beekeeper.

“Most people aren’t allergic to bees. It’s a natural reaction of the body when you get stung to have slight swelling,” said Greif, who is allergic to bees. “I carry an EpiPen with me and I’m careful.”

The most important thing to remember is to go slow, not make loud noises or sudden movements.

Hive structure

Hives are made up of multiple sections. A common hive and the best for beginning beekeepers is a Langstroth Hive. On the bottom is a bottom board, on top of that are two deeps, which are two deep boxes with frames inside. The frames are where the bees build the combs and store the honey. When the two deeps are full of honey and bees, supers or shallows, different sized boxes, can be put on top with more frames inside for the bees to move in to. On top is a board that acts as a lid.


Inside an active hive there is one queen, who lives three to five years but only goes out of the hive once in her lifetime to mate for two or three days. The queen’s only job is to lay eggs. When the weather gets warm in the spring, all the way until late fall, she lays thousands of eggs.

There are a few hundred male bees, called drones, in the hive from spring until fall. Due to their large size, the dones get kicked out of the hive in late fall otherwise they would eat down the honey supply that the bees store up for winter too quickly.

Also inside the hive is the largest group, the worker bees, numbering anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000. The workers do it all. They make the comb, collect the pollen, make honey, tend to the queen, which includes feeding her, cleaning her, taking away her waste, and selecting which of the eggs should be male, female, or a new queen.

When the queen lays an egg it is neutral. The workers take stock of who’s in the hive and who they need more of. They will only make a new queen when the colony is getting too large for the hive and needs to split. To make a new queen, the workers will feed the egg as it grows with what’s called, “royal jelly.” The workers make it specifically for the chosen queen.

In the winter, the workers’ job is to keep their queen alive. After kicking the drones out of the hive, the workers will continually rotate in a cluster around the queen to keep her warm.

There are some dangers to hives that the bees cannot protect themselves against. Mice like to get into hives, cows will knock hives over, even skunks will try to get in them. Mites can get in a hive, as well as wax worms and beatles. Beekeepers can treat their hives for some of the insects that cause problems in hives.

In order for bees to make honey, the workers must first build the honey comb. That process takes the most time and energy. Once the comb is built honey bees will go out, a maximum of 3 miles, and collect pollen, storing it in the pollen sacks on their legs.

“If you watch your bee hive real early when they’re bringing in dandelions, their legs, their pollen sacks, are literally bright yellow. It looks like they’ve got little neon beacons on them,” said Greif.

Workers will bring the pollen back to the hive, store it in the comb and turn it to honey there. When the pollen is turned to honey, the bees will beat their wings over it to dry it down, then cap it with wax to seal and preserve it.

When the bees dry down the honey it gets down to about 18 percent.

“It’s just like a farmer dries down their corn or soybeans,” said Greif.

“You kind of keep track of how fast they’re filling up the frames,” said Kjellsen. “There are 9 to 10 frames per box. They’ll build from the center out. When they get to be three quarters of the way full, 7 out of the 10 frames, when they’re full you want to put another box on top with another 9 to 10 frames in it.”

Harvesting honey is a process that is best done with a partner or group and some patience.

“Now that’s a messy process,” Greif said about robbing hives.

It’s most important to leave enough honey for the bees to eat when collecting honey for personal consumption or sale. One hundred to 120 pounds of honey should be left in the hives for the bees.

A smoker is used to push the bees down away from the frames that are being taken. When a frame is taken, putting it between two solid covers will prevent any stray bees from coming to it. The wax caps are then melted off and the honey can be spun out of the comb using an extractor.

“By spinning the honey out of the frames you’re not damaging the comb that they built, so it’s less work for them the next year when you reuse those frames because they already have the comb built,” said Kjellsen.

When starting beekeeping, it’s important to not purchase bees after July because they need enough time to build comb, if in fresh frames, and produce the honey that will sustain them throughout the winter.

Knowing how and when to check on a hive is important for beginners.

“When you go to look in your hive, you want a nice, bright, sunshiny, non-windy day because most of them will be out and about and you don’t have as many at home wondering what you’re doing,” said Greif.

“When you do go out and inspect your hive, suit up. You have your headgear on and everything ... and you have a smoker with you. Give the hive some puffs of smoke to drive the bees away,” said Kjellsen.

“There are two really hard things about beekeeping,” said Greif. “Number one is keeping your bees alive and number two is keeping your smoker lit.”

Greif recommends taking a partner along to run the smoker and keep the bees at bay.

As the seasons change, so does the worker bees’ work load. In winter, they keep the queen alive and that’s it. Come spring, they tell the queen to start laying eggs and bees go out to collect what pollen they can find.

“They’ll set boundaries,” said Greif. “They’ll come out and they’re mapping it so they know where they’re at. That’s how they can go 3 miles away and come back. They’ll come out and go about 6 inches out and then back, and then a little farther and back, then you’ll see them going around the hive. It’s really interesting to watch, they’re so intelligent.”

In the high heat of summer, especially in times of drought, water can be set out for the bees. As pollen becomes scarce in the fall, other foods can be set out for bees. They can be fed protein patties or a thick sugar water made up of 16 ounces of sugar for every pint of water.

They don’t have to be fed at all – it all depends on the preference of the beekeeper.

“Everybody does beekeeping differently ... it’s whatever works for you,” said Grief.

Many people are afraid of bees or simply don’t care to be around them.

“Bees are not going to set out to sting you, that’s not what they want,” said Greif. “They’ll only sting you if you pinch them. Don’t kill them.”

If a bee does sting a person, it’s important to leave the area quickly. Bees release a pheromone when they sting to let other bees know there is danger. So if a bee stings, more will come.

“It’s all about education. People need to understand that it’s not going to come to you and sting you. If a bee lands on you it’s either resting or you’re wearing a perfume and it’s trying to find out what it is,” said Greif. “Come to a class or get a mentor.

“We want good information out there. We want quality information out there. And we want everybody to succeed,” said Greif. “We want everybody that gets into this to be successful. Because it is time, it is money and it can be very depressing when something goes wrong.”

Greif encourages everyone to learn more about honeybees.

“Bees are functional,” said Greif. “Wasps are jerks, bees are nice.”

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