honey bees surviving the winter

According to 16-year-old West Fork, Iowa resident Collin Witte, his first year working as a caretaker of honey bees has been both “challenging and rewarding.” The high school junior, awarded in 2017 with a youth beekeeping scholarship via the Iowa Honey Producers Association, harvested around 50 pounds of honey from his two beehives in the last year. Witte says, “I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so I kept some, but I sold the rest to friends and family. It’s pretty good stuff.”

In spring 2018, Witte filled up his busy schedule further with beekeeping—on top of going to school, working for the Linn Grove Country Club, having a lawn-mowing business, and raising livestock on his family’s Rockwell farm. As part of the scholarship, Witte received one hive, honey bees, beekeeping equipment, a mentor, and beekeeping classes through North Iowa Area Community College, where he learned the basics of all things bee-related, including pest management, bee care, honey production, and winter preparation.

Witte received around 5,000 bees in April, and with help from Randy Elsbernd, his mentor, he installed the honey bees into their hive on some acreage in southwest Rockwell owned by a family friend. “There were some highs and lows, but I enjoy it a lot,” Witte says. The next big challenge was getting the hives and bees through Iowa’s upcoming long, cold winter season. Pest management and winter preparation happened in autumn when the bees were relocated to a better protected spot from the snow, wind, and cold. “Ideally, the bees will have enough honey stored up that they will be able to eat and survive all winter,” Witte said.

However, per Witte, the bees didn’t make as much honey as expected after harvesting season in the fall, so Witte fed the bees sugar water to help them get through winter. If this works, Witte says, “As soon as dandelions and other stuff start flowering” in the spring, the bees will start producing. And if everything goes well, the hives can be split to create more bee colonies, but Witte is being cautiously optimistic about it, given he’s still a first-time beekeeper. He added that, “If everything goes well, I hope to keep on doing it for lots of years to come.”

At this point, the state of Iowa has over 4,500 active beekeepers, from hobbyist beekeepers to full-blown, full-time commercial apiarists, and it seems that Mr. Witte has done well in contributing to the declining numbers of honey bees, which have been a concern for those in the agricultural community as well as for state and federal leaders for well over a decade now.

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