OSAGE | When the North Iowa Honeybee Queen came to speak to Gwen Voaklander’s biology class last year, Voaklander found herself immediately curious to learn more about bees.
The Honeybee Queen had spoken about the Iowa Honeybees Association youth scholarship. After speaking with her mother, Voaklander applied and was recently awarded one of the scholarships.
Voaklander will receive a bee hive, beekeeping equipment, a mentor and honeybees, as well as instruction on honeybees and how to care for them, all part of an introduction to beekeeping classes held at North Iowa Community College.
Voaklander, 14, is a freshman at Osage High School. She plans to use the project has a supervised agricultural experience through FFA. This will be her first FFA project.
“I’ve gone to Dam Pure Honey out in Mitchell,” Voaklander said. “And I’ve seen the bees being worked with there. I’ve also seen the observation hive at the nature center.”
The introduction to beekeeping classes are a requirement of the scholarship, and Voaklander has already attended two classes. Voaklander said it’s a completely new experience for her to be working with animals, who, outside of dogs, she’s not had any hands on experience with.
“In the first class, we talked about the biology of bees and how the hive works together,” Voaklander said. “For the second one, we learned what makes up a hive, how it is structured and how honey is gathered.”
Voaklander acknowledged she knows she will get stung. That it’s all part of working with bees, but she’s excited to soon have the opportunity.
“I’m either going to get Italians or Carniolans, but I haven’t decided which yet,” said Voaklander, who has been reading different books about bees and researching all she can about them. Voaklander will be keeping her hive at home, and is hoping to add an herb garden to complement last year’s planting of wildflowers. There are close to a quarter acre of wildflowers on the property, with plans to plant more.
“I want to do something with biology after high school,” Voaklander said. “Or maybe be a vet or something like that. I want to maybe get more hives, if I’m able to, and will sell or give away honey, if any is produced. I also want to make candles, it’s something I’m curious about.”
In July, Voaklander will travel to the University of Maryland to tour a large bee research laboratory. During the Iowa Beekeeping Association banquet, Voaklander learned about the Mamoa mite, which sucks the fat out of the bees and is a threat to the bees. Voaklander said researchers at the Maryland lab have created an ankle biter bee to help combat the mite problem. In addition, Voaklander said she hopes to learn how to winterize her hive to withstand the frigid Iowa winters.
“People even rent out their bees for pollination purposes,” Voaklander said, who found out there will be a soybean field right next to the property where she will be keeping her bees. “Having bees next to soybeans can raise the crops up to 13 percent.”
In addition to the classes, Voaklander is required to keep a journal about her experiences and to help at the Iowa State Fair in the Honeybee Booth, where they have different flavors of honey and an observation hive. Voaklander and the rest of her beekeeping class will also take a trip to their professor’s house, where he raises bees and makes colonies.