Before receiving this grant, I worked at Troy Community Farm, a small organic CSA farm in urban Madison, Wisconsin. One morning a week, I volunteered on the farm—weeding, planting and harvesting vegetables. I also helped at the farm stand where people picked up their CSA shares.
My goals for this project were to learn about bees and beekeeping (enough that I could someday have my own hive), to help increase the number of hives and keep them healthy throughout the whole year, and to have fun. I also hoped to help produce honey from Troy’s hives to sell to the CSA members and my family and to sell enough that we could buy new beekeeping equipment with the money.
First, the beekeepers at Troy Community Farm (Claire Strader and Sarah Schatz) helped me order my bees, hive, and equipment using the grant money. I helped them set up my hive and the others and then helped check up on them once a week. We harvested honey from the hives twice and I helped to extract it. My hive was very strong and healthy, so when another hive lost its queen (who is the only honeybee in a colony that lays eggs and is very important), we took a frame with eggs from my hive and put it in the queen-less hive so it could make a new queen (which honeybees can do). Claire and Sarah also made a nucleus colony (a small colony made from splitting a larger one) out of a queen cell and bees from my hive.
Near the end of the beekeeping season, we sprinkled powdered sugar throughout the hives as a treatment for varroa mites, which are a common problem with honeybees. Having sugar on their bodies encourages the bees to groom themselves thoroughly and get the mites off. Another thing we did to reduce varroa mites was to apply a natural treatment called Apilife Var that contains the essential oils thymol (thyme), menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor. Unfortunately, one of the hives had to be killed because it was unhealthy from too many varroa mites and probably would not have survived the winter.
During the whole season we used natural and organic methods and treatments because it is better for everyone in the long term not to use chemicals that can hurt the bees, pollute the honey, and are bad for the environment.
The two people who taught me beekeeping and helped with my project were Sarah Schatz and Claire Strader, the head farmer at Troy Community Farm. They had already kept bees for several years, and they were the ones who initiated the project. I learned a lot from them and hope to work with them again next year.
We did not increase the number of hives, but we produced and sold enough honey that we were able to order five new hives and frames for next year. Most of the hives stayed fairly strong and healthy, and look like they are going into winter well-prepared. The nucleus colony is overwintering on top of another hive and hopefully in the spring it will be strong enough to replace the hive we had to kill. And of course, I learned a lot about honeybees and beekeeping and plan to get my own hive once I have helped a few more years at Troy.
We expected that I would learn about beekeeping and we would have a fun time doing it, which definitely did happen. The only thing that we would have liked to change is that we had a few scheduling problems where we couldn’t all meet at the same time. If we could do this project again, we would plan better so nobody would miss anything.
During my project, I learned about honey bees and natural beekeeping for the production of honey, the pollination of plants at Troy, and also just for fun. Now that I have learned about beekeeping, my family and I want to get a hive of our own, and many people in my community have learned about honeybees and beekeeping through me telling them and the talks I gave.
Besides telling family and friends about what I was learning, I held several short presentations about honeybees and beekeeping next to my hive at Troy’s Annual Savor the Summer Festival on August 1. During four presentations, I gave 40-50 people a brief overview of beekeeping and a honey sample and answered questions.
The only thing that I would like is for there to be a larger amount of money available for the youth grant. Although the money was enough for my project, with more I could have accomplished a lot more.