Alternatively: Musings of a teenage beekeeper

by Kate Riding

I’m a teenager, and I’ve been keeping bees for 3 years. As a teenager who has school, and after school activities, it’s hard to keep bees. But I’ve made it through some wack times with my bees. My first summer keeping bees was pretty easy. I knew that beekeeping was hard, but how hard was it really? Last summer I went through several queens, and this year brought angry queens, and even more angry bees. Beekeeping also brings about lots of opportunities and chances to grow.

My first year beekeeping was easy. I got into the OMB program with a scholarship (thank you) and had a mentor in the program. That first year was a steep learning curve, but I could take it thanks to my mom, my mentor, Hieke, and many others. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t afraid to get it. I also had lots of time on my hands because I was homeschooled and my mom let me follow my passions. My hives were small, but due to inexperience quickly became 6 boxes tall. My mentor helped me out, and we condensed them into 3 boxes instead (I have 6in super boxes as my brood boxes because I’m small.) I learned how to treat for mites, the what, when, why and how. I learned how the beehive is set up, and quickly changed my goals from honey production to science. At the end of the season, I was tired but excited for the challenges of the coming season.

My second year of beekeeping was rough to say the least. My bees made it through the winter, and as an official Apprentice beekeeper, I thought I knew it all. I was wrong, of course. I kept in close contact with my mentor, who graciously provided me with queens. My bees were angry and wanted nothing to do with the monarchy. They refused queen after queen, and eventually, they made their own. The bees grew strong and filled 3 boxes. I thought I learned from the mistake of adding too many boxes and instead let them be crowded. In other words, they swarmed. My brother saw them before me and said: “Kate, your bees are swarming!” I ignored him, because what did he know? (foolish thinking, I know.) They swarmed and I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do and called my mentor. Once again, he helped me through my problems and provided me with yet another queen (thanks again). 

“Now”, I thought, “I know everything.” Nope. I didn’t. That winter was rough on everyone, and because of my foolishness, I insulated them incorrectly. My bees couldn’t make it out of their hive for water and bathroom runs, so they died. I learned from my mistakes and started anew.

That winter, while my bees were trapped in their hives, my sister found a competition hosted by the 4-H in conjunction with the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees. The prompt was “What’s so Super about the Super-Organism the Honey Bee?” I knew I liked the way the bees organized their hives and wrote about it. My essay titled “Age Polyethism” was less than 1,000 words (as required) and amazing. I submitted it with pride and hoped for the best. My article arrived by the due date and was loved. 2-3 weeks later, I got the amazing news that I had the Oregon State Champion Essay. I was ecstatic; I had made it to Nationals. The essays were submitted and I waited for 3 more weeks. The results were posted and, while I didn’t win, I was one of the higher ranking essays. They told me it was a fantastic essay and that they knew I was going places. I received my consolation prize (a picture book to teach children about honey bees) and put it out of my mind, thinking I’ll do better next year. 

Heike reached out to me less than a week after the results were announced. She told me that I might have the opportunity to be published in the Western Apicultural Society Journal. I was flabbergasted to think that I might be published. I knew there was a decent chance of it happening, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. That July, about 2 months after the results of nationals came in, I was sent a copy of the July issue. I flipped through the pages, not believing what was happening. There was my name, my face, and my article. I was a published author! Right after my article was a statement from Heike that read, “She learned more about honey bees in her first year than many adults in who knows how many years.” I was in tears. Someone that I admired, and looked up too, thought highly of me. I told everyone I knew about my article, friends, family, strangers on the street. I had applied to several scholarships by then (I don’t have an income to pay for treatments and upkeep for my bees). I applied to one hosted my Bayer Bee Health. I wrote my essay, submitted it and waited for the results. I did well, but not well enough. 

This past May, I was walking to 3rd period and I got an email. In this email, I found out that I was chosen to be inducted into the first-ever young beekeeper hall of fame. In accepting this opportunity, I was given a large scholarship and the opportunity to be interviewed for the local newspaper. It was a wonderful opportunity to be given and it invoked lots of tears. 

After the craziness of the scholarships, it was the start of this season. All through the summer, my bees were happy, had low mite counts, and were booming. I, being a busy teenager, was grateful to have such an easy season. Fair came and went, and I was finally able to have a really good look at my bees. It was late August and all of a sudden, the mite counts were through the roof. My bees were angry, my queen died, and my ‘easy’ season was all of a sudden a dream. One day, I was working my bees and they were mad, they hadn’t had a queen for almost 19 days, their population was high, but so were their mite counts. My mom and I were trying to condense them from 5 boxes into 3. We quickly closed the hive and left the apiary. We left in such a rush that I forgot my hive tool. I realized it 30ish minutes later, and being exhausted and stressed out didn’t realize that the bees might still be mad at me. I went out without a veil, and the bees attacked me. They ended up stinging me twice on the outside of my nose, and once inside my nose. My face swelled up and I couldn’t see. I ended up going to Urgent Care and getting steroids. Two weeks ago, I went out again and got stung on my cheekbone. Both of these incidents taught me an important lesson: “always wear your suit when your bees are angry, and if you can’t, RUN!”

I’d say that in hindsight, keeping bees while still in high school, and being very busy with life, equals hectic summers and great opportunities. I would never give these experiences up; they have taught me how to work with bees, how to keep myself safe from bees, and they have allowed me to discover what I love the most. I hope that in the future, I will be able to give back and help everyone and everything that has helped me come this far. 

Big thanks to Kate Riding for writing this month's notes!

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