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Ashley Stewart / ASHLEY STEWART, Globe Gazette 

Collin Witte, 15, of Rockwell, checks on his honey bees at a property southwest of the city. He was one of 19 students awarded a beekeeping scholarship through the Iowa Honey Producers Association.

Rockwell teen hopes bees survive 'cold, long Iowa winter' after first year

ROCKWELL | Collin Witte’s first year as a beekeeper was “challenging and rewarding.”

The 16-year-old West Fork junior, who was awarded a beekeeping scholarship through the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s Youth Scholarship Program in 2017, harvested about 50 pounds of honey between his two hives this past year.

“I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so I kept some, but I sold the rest to friends and family,” Witte said. “It’s pretty good stuff.”

Last spring, Witte added beekeeping to his already busy schedule, which includes attending school, running a lawn care business and working at Linn Grove Country Club as well as raising a variety of livestock and poultry on the family farm in Rockwell.

As a scholarship recipient, he received a bee hive, beekeeping equipment, honey bees, beekeeping classes and a mentor.

Witte attended beekeeping classes at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City throughout the winter to learn the “basics of everything” bees, including care, pest management, winter preparation and honey production.

In late April, he received about 5,000 honey bees, and with the help of his mentor, Randy Elsbernd, who owns and operates Honey and Ewe Farm in Mason City with his wife, Becky, and children Nathan, Britta, and Markus, installed the bees into his hive on a family friend’s acreage southwest of Rockwell.

“There were some highs and lows, but I enjoy it a lot,” Witte said.

His next challenge is getting his hives — and the honey bees — through the “cold, long Iowa winter.”

Winter preparation and pest management took place in the fall with the relocation of the hives to better protect them from the cold, wind and snow, Witte said.

“Ideally the bees will have enough honey stored up that they will be able to eat and survive all winter,” he said.

However, Witte said his bees didn’t produce as much honey as he expected they would after he harvested it in the summer and fall, so he fed them sugar water in hopes of helping them through the winter.

If it works, and both hives make it through the winter, Witte said “as soon as dandelions and other stuff start flowering” in the spring, the bees will start producing.

And if things “go really well,” he’ll be able to split his hives to create more colonies, but he’s cautiously optimistic of that outcome as a first-year beekeeper.

“If everything goes well, I hope to keep on doing it for lots of years to come,” Witte said.

Iowa has more than 4,500 beekeepers, ranging from hobbyists to full-time commercial beekeepers.

In December 2017, news about two minors vandalizing 50 bee hives — and killing half a million bees — belonging to Wild Hill Honey business in Sioux City went viral.

The minors, who were not identified by police, were charged with criminal mischief and burglary.

The juveniles, who are 12 and 13 years old, are accused of destroying all of Wild Hill Honey's hives on Sioux City's west side. The company's losses were estimated at $60,000.

The damage was not covered by insurance. But the public, outraged by the senseless act of vandalism, raised tens of thousands of dollars online for the owners, Justin and Tori Englehardt.

The Englehardts planned to rebuild their business, and restock their hives as early as last spring in light of the public's generosity.

Ashley Stewart / ASHLEY STEWART, Globe Gazette 

Dozens of Collin Witte's honey bees are busy working on one of the hive's frames Friday morning southwest of Rockwell.

Masonry gives construction students hands-on training

WATERLOO (AP) — Students in Wayne Lidtke's sustainable construction and design class have learned about house building by doing it.

They've framed walls, hung drywall, installed windows and doors, and done minimal wiring while building small scale houses at the Waterloo Career Center. The students will be working on some other skills, like roofing, in the Waterloo Community Schools' program before the semester is over.

Though, the nine high schoolers put down their hammers and picked up trowels. Iowa Masonry Institute members taught them lessons on mixing mortar and building a number of structures with cinder block and brick.

Their task was to construct a pier. The column-like structure can support a beam in a building, an overhang on an entryway or have a more decorative use at the end of a driveway.

Students shoveled mortar out of wheelbarrows onto plywood platforms. They scooped up the substance with their trowels, depositing it on the edges of a pair of cinder blocks before adding another layer of blocks.

"You put a lot of mortar there so you have a lot of contact, just so in a couple years it doesn't fall apart," said Hunter Pierce, a West High School senior.

Chris Busch, overseeing the students' efforts, emphasized the importance of getting the right amount of mortar between the blocks.

"That joint is an integral part of the unit," noted the Marshalltown-based Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers union training director. Ideally, he said, the mortar level will be about three-eighths of an inch.

Without the right amount, "it'll start to lose considerable integrity," said Busch. "Three-eighths is kind of that sweet spot."

Students were building the piers five blocks high. "Then, they're going to veneer it with brick," he explained.

As one of the students got several blocks high, Busch offered a bit of advice: "You can use your level to check that, check for level (horizontally) and plumb (vertically)" to ensure everything is straight and level.

"It's fun, it's something to do," said West High junior Nathan Elliott, of learning the skill. "Better than sitting in there on a computer. I like the hands-on stuff."

Pierce also likes learning this way and said he would consider working in construction.

Those are the sorts of responses Busch hopes for from his training sessions at schools.

"This is basically part of our recruitment," he said. Students started with basics like learning how to spread mortar, lay brick and use a level. They also built a low wall earlier.

Busch doesn't expect everyone in the class to end up as a bricklayer. But bringing the program into schools is important to finding the next generation of workers — and the amount of time they've had at the career center only helps.

"This is great having a whole week in here to present masonry to kids," he said.

Homeless North Iowan seeks help from Christmas Cheer Fund

MASON CITY | A homeless North Iowa woman has turned to the Christmas Cheer Fund for her and her teenage son.

The 51-year-old woman is currently residing with a friend in Clear Lake after her mother was transferred to a nursing home, she wrote in her Cheer Fund application.

“I have been actively looking for work and having a hard time getting a job due to my background checks,” she said, noting she doesn’t have an income. “My friend has been kind enough to let us stay there.”

If granted Cheer Fund assistance, the woman said she’d use it for food and gifts for her children.

Since the Cheer Fund began in 1927, more than $3 million has been raised to help about 2,700 North Iowa families.

This year’s goal is $125,000.

The Christmas Cheer Fund was established by Globe Gazette Publisher Lee Loomis in 1927 so every child could have a present on Christmas morning. In the years since it has come to mean a little help at Christmastime to people of all ages.

Donations may be dropped off or mailed to the Globe Gazette office, 300 N. Washington Ave., Mason City, IA 50402-0271.

Any remaining funds not distributed for the holidays will be given to local nonprofits. The Christmas Cheer Fund balance will return to $100 in January to maintain the checking account.

The deadline to apply for the Cheer Fund has passed. No new applications will be accepted.