Sweet summer ahead

St. Edmond nurse’s property is buzzing with bee activity

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Brian McLoughlin, left, and Marie McLoughlin, both of Fort Dodge, look over a collection of honey bees at their property north of Fort Dodge recently.

As a school nurse at St. Edmond Catholic School, Marie McLoughlin helps students who aren’t feeling well.

At her rural Webster County home south of Badger, she and her husband, Brian McLoughlin, are helping bees stay healthy, so they can repopulate.

The two decided to give beekeeping a whirl after taking a class on bees in January from the Iowa State University Extension Service.

“We have always liked honey,” Marie McLoughlin said. “We went back and forth on the idea and decided to try it.”

First they needed some equipment, which includes: bee suits, hives, gloves, a hive tool, a smoker to calm the bees and, of course, bees.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Marie McLoughlin, of Fort Dodge, holds up a bee cage at her home north of Fort Dodge, recently.

The bees were shipped from California and arrived the first week of May.

“We have enough to fill two hives,” Marie McLoughlin said.

Each hive has between 8,000 and 10,000 bees, she said.

“They came in a box, like 3 to 5 pounds,” Brian McLoughlin said.

“It seems like a lot, but it’s a small box,” Marie McLoughlin said.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Brian McLoughlin, left, lets out some sugar water for the bees at his property north of Fort Dodge recently. His wife, Marie McLoughlin stands at right.

The couple has been feeding the bees sugar water to help them become more efficient.

“Each hive has its own queen,” Brian McLoughlin said. “She lays all the eggs.”

The queen comes in a separate cage.

When the other bees interact with the queen, they can reject her if they don’t like her.

“We failed with one and succeeded in the other,” Brian McLoughlin said. “All the bees were gone from the hive.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Honey bees are shown on a beehive frame here.

Now the plan is to force the bees into getting a new queen.

“If they get crowded, they might create a new queen and start somewhere else,” he said. “We are going to try to transport them. We are going to intentionally overcrowd them.”

The couple admits they are still learning, but they appear well on their way to becoming master beekeepers.

“We know, in theory, how it’s done; we just have to put it to practice,” Brian McLoughlin said. “We are pure amateurs, but we are still learning.”

The McLoughlins learned through the Boone River Bee Club that more than 50 percent of bee hives died over the winter in Iowa.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Honey bees gather near a comb at the McLoughlin’s property recently.

“That sounds worse than what it is because you can repopulate fairly quickly if you have combs established,” Brian McLoughlin said.

The main threats to bees are varroa mites and surviving the winter.

Bees must be highly competitive to survive.

Worker bees only live about 45 days, while queen bees can live three years. Brian McLoughlin said most of the time it’s the wings of the bees that get worn down over time.

The bees are worked hard, he said.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson Honey bees gather near the box where they are kept on the McLoughlin’s farm north of Fort Dodge.

Some bees serve as guards at the hive, and if the worker bees don’t bring back enough pollen, they aren’t allowed in.

“If they are too weak or ready to die, it’s their time and they go off and die,” he said.

Marie McLoughlin said a lot of days the bees don’t need much help.

“Make sure they have sugar water,” she said.

Brian McLoughlin added, “We will continue to add boxes to expand colonies. When that gets 50 percent full we put a queen excluder in and try to collect the honey.”

The worker bees go up through the screen, he said.

In early August, the McLoughlins will extrude the honey.

Marie McLoughlin said she’s enjoying the hobby.

“We have learned a lot,” she said.

The couple’s grandson has an interest in the bees too.

“He tells people not to pick our dandelions,” Marie McLoughlin said. “Because the bees like those.”

Brian McLoughlin said other beekeepers have been extremely helpful.

“Beekeepers are really nice people,” he said. “They go out of their way to try to help you. They like to talk bees.”

There’s one thing they all agree on.

“There needs to be more bees,” he said.