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.