My youth started with insects in general but bloomed into something much more. I started beekeeping in high school as a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) with FFA. After raising pigs all throughout my youth and high school I wanted something different for my senior year. This is truly where I became focused on being a positive influence on local agriculture and bridging the gap of agricultural literacy. Ag literacy is being aware and understanding food and fiber production. It’s understanding where the food you eat comes from; hint, it’s not the grocery store – there’s a whole system before that if you can believe it!
I was the first one in my FFA chapter and high school to start a beekeeping project (and the first one in the area to have pink beehive boxes). It started out difficult since none of my advisors or peers knew anything about bees. It proved to be a learn-by-doing effort, which ironically “learn-by-doing” is the motto for the university I eventually chose, and personally I think it was better in the long run figuring things out for myself. After skimming a few do-it-yourself books I started out with purchasing basic beekeeping equipment and one package of bees with the money I earned from the market hogs I raised in the years before. I joined local bee guilds to gain more background knowledge on Honeybees from other local beekeepers. These clubs were the key to my success and sometimes it’s good to realize you don’t have to do everything alone!
Through the members of the guild I learned that it’s best to start out with at least two hives in order to compare differences – something that I would have not realized would have been important even if I didn’t connect with other beekeepers. I soon started to collect my own hives by responding to swarm calls from the public. A swarm call would happen when a clump of Honeybees formed on an object like a tree or a bush and the concerned citizen didn’t know what to do about the situation. I’d bring my bee suit, a ladder, and a cardboard box over to transfer the bees from the tree or bush to a wooden beehive box providing a safe home for them in my Apiary. An Apiary is simply a place where hives of bees are kept for the collection of honey.
As my Apiary grew from one, to two, to at most fifty hives one season, I used my project as a tool for education. I displayed poster boards about bees at my local county fair because it was initially my main goal to educate the public and continues to be my favorite part of keeping bees.
My second goal was to make my project as sustainable as possible. I reused materials and refurbished hive-stands, bottom boards, outer covers, and other hive assemblies. I refrained from using pesticides to treat enemies of bees like wasps, mites, and ants. I researched bees and found out that they were being incorporated onto the Endangered Species list so I wanted to do my part in saving them because they play such an important role in agriculture.
I had the unique opportunity of taking a beekeeping college course and volunteering in the campus Apiary at Cal Poly which taught me much of what I know now about sustainable beekeeping. I also learned how to breed queens and found my beekeeping mentor there in San Luis Obispo, CA.
Aside from public and self-education, I delved into making products such as honey, lip balm, and candles. I still change up the recipe for the lip balm looking for improvements and variety, but my friends and family don’t mind being guinea pigs for my creations.
I believe a more informed public can join together with beekeepers and help keep Honeybees alive and well. Even planting a bee-friendly garden can help improve the declining pollinator population. My beekeeping knowledge has come in handy this summer as Organic Valley has given me the task of creating a native pollinator habitat plan on land that is not suitable for growing crops located in Cashton, WI.