Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

Queen of the bees

MP high school student receives bee hive for beekeeping scholarship
Jun 07, 2018
Photo by: Grace King Mt. Pleasant Community High School student Jozlyn Lee received a honeybee scholarship from the Iowa Honey Producers Association last fall. Her bee hive arrived in May and since then Lee has been working with her mentor Chris Jackson to learn how to become a beekeeper.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


In the shade of the trees at Jozlyn Lee’s grandparent’s house in Mt. Pleasant sits a muted turquoise box and three more stacked on top of each other beside it. One of the boxes is filled with the buzzing of bees, but eventually as Lee grows her hive, all three will be home to around 60,000 honeybees.

As Chris Jackson, Lee’s mentor and Danville resident, sprayed the box with a light, cool smoke to make the bees more docile before he took the lid off, Lee somewhat timidly peered into the box as well.

Lee, a senior at Mt. Pleasant Community High School, only received the bees a month ago as a beekeeping scholarship from the Iowa Honey Producers Association. She has yet to be stung by a bee, a rite of passage she doesn’t relish.

Jackson on the other hand has been working with bees for almost a decade. Although he was dressed in a hooded beekeeping jacket, his hands were gloveless as he took out the frames of honeycomb covered with busy bees trying to keep house.

Jackson’s vulnerability to the bees doesn’t faze him. If asked how many times he’s been stung, he answers by questioning, “Today or tomorrow?”

Even so, Jackson said people have a misconception of honeybees and fear is irrational. Bees give off a warning before they sting, usually bouncing into someone three times beforehand.

“That’s why if you hear someone saying they got stung by a honeybee, it probably wasn’t,” Jackson said. “If you come by here and smack a stick on the side (of the box), you’re going to get stung, but that’s your problem … It’s the bees’ defense.”

Sticking his unprotected hand in between the frames where the bees build their honeycomb, Jackson felt a bee lick his finger. “They’re really calm,” he said casually. “They don’t even care.”

During the day, Jackson is an electrician, but he hopes that someday his full-time job can be beekeeping, a passion he can trace back to the fourth-grade when he saw a swarm of bees on a tree at school and thought it was pretty cool.

“It’s a multibillion dollar industry,” Jackson said. “Between the pollination they say one out of every three bites of food you take relies on a honeybee.”

This is Jackson’s second year mentoring students through the Iowa Honey Producers Association beekeeper scholarship. Jackson is teaching Lee how to keep a healthy hive — caring for the bees, diseases to look for and ensuring they have access to enough pollen. In the fall, he will show her how to collect the honey and make sure the bees are prepared to survive the long, Iowa winter.

“My theory in beekeeping is anyone can keep bees in the summertime,” Jackson said. “If you get them through winter that’s when you become a beekeeper,” he said in challenge to Lee.

Lee discovered the scholarship opportunity at the 2017 Iowa State Fair. She applied, wrote an essay, sent reference letters and learned last fall that she was chosen to begin her own hive to learn the ins and outs of beekeeping.

Lee ordered the equipment from Mann Lake Ltd. Beekeeping Supplies & Protective Gear herself, which is paid for by the scholarship. She attended a beekeeping class with Jackson, painted and set up her boxes for the bee hive, and waited for her hive to arrive at the beginning of May.

Lee is considering going to college for agriculture after she finishes high school next year. “Bees are very important to agriculture,” said Brooke McClellan, Lee’s mother.

Lee would also eventually like to make honey and is grateful to the scholarship for enabling the next generation to try their hand at beekeeping.

In fact, she pulled out the bees on her own for the first time over Memorial Day weekend to check their brood pattern, the pattern the queen bee lays her eggs, when Jackson was out of town.

As Jackson and Lee took out the seven frames one by one to inspect the bees and the queen’s brood pattern Wednesday, May 30, they pointed out the queen bee, longer than the others and painted with a white dot on her back.

“She’s the heartbeat of the hive,” Jackson said. “If there was no queen in there, they’d be running everywhere looking like a bunch of frantic kids in a playground.”

Being careful not to squish any bees as he replaced the frame, Jackson pulled out the next frame, which was waxy with honeycomb. Scraping away at it with a small knife he inspected the honey while the bees flocked to the point of intrusion to lick up the sweet nectar.

“You see how clear that is? Probably black locus honey,” Jackson said as he showed Lee how the bees were already repairing the hole he created in the honeycomb and offering a taste of the honey.

Each year the average hive yields 60 pounds of honey. The first student Jackson mentored last year, however, pulled 130 pounds of honey from one of his hives. “He did exceptionally well with his bees,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he usually only mentors students until the fall when they are plenty capable of handling their hive on their own, but he also loves teaching and said he will continue to do so as long as people keep learning.

While the goal of the first year in beekeeping is for the bees to survive the winter, Lee hopes to collect some honey to keep and give as gifts. As her hive grows, she hopes she can begin selling it. She will collect the honey around Labor Day.

“I’m planning on bottling it up, see how much we’ve got,” Lee said.

With the seven frames in Lee’s hive almost filled, Jackson told her she could probably add a new frame or two in a couple weeks before placing a new box on top of the hive. Bees naturally want to build up, Jackson explained, adding that of his 60 hives some of them are taller than he is.

While Lee’s hive currently has around 25,000 to 30,000 bees, Jackson estimated, a strong hive will have 60,000 bees and one queen.

“They’re really amazing creatures,” McClellan admired.

Beekeeping for Lee’s family is already becoming a family hobby, with her six-year-old sister impatiently awaiting her own beekeeping jacket so she can learn alongside Lee.

“Beekeeping is the second oldest profession in the world,” Jackson preached to his pupils. “Back in biblical times, (honey) is what they used for mummifying bodies. It doesn’t go bad as long as it’s processed right … Today, it’s all ages that are getting into beekeeping,” he said.

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