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Apiary 101

By Staff | Jan 20, 2017

INSTRUCTOR ROY KRAFT, right, discusses a beehive tray with, from left, Kyle Welander and his daughter Raegan Welander, both of Rockwell City; and David Welander, of Pomeroy. The elder Welander has been keeping bees for four years. His granddaughter Raegan said she wants to start beekeeping as an FFA supervised agricultural experience project.

FORT DODGE – Roy Kraft could fill a book with mistakes made by first-year beekeepers.

And if his stories can’t fill it, the speakers on Jan. 21 and Jan. 28 will.

About three dozen people attended the first of four beginning beekeeping classes on Jan. 7 at the Webster County Extension office to learn the basics of beekeeping, giving people with an interest in bees to determine if its the kind of activity and responsibility they want to undertake.

Instructor Roy Kraft, of Goldfield, in just his sixth year as an apiarist, is in his fourth year teaching beginners. On Jan. 7 he covered the basics of beekeeping, misconceptions people have about bees and how to stock a hive with a new package of bees.

The series continued Jan. 21 with Pat Ennis, of Goodell, a distributer of beekeeping supplies for Mann Lake Ltd., based in Minnesota; and a bee broker. “He knows so much more about bees than I do,” Kraft said.

Andy Joseph, state apiarist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will be the program from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 28, talking about diseases – prevention and mitigation.

The Feb. 4 meeting will be on honey extraction, including the equipment available, “from the cheap to the high dollar,” Kraft said.

On Jan. 7, he demonstrated how to place a queen in the hive and keep her protected until the bees get accustomed to her pheromones and, hopefully, not kill her once they get access inside her candy-coated housing.

During his presentations, Kraft discusses the bee smoker, how to light them and keep them lit and demonstrated by videos how little smoke is actually needed to keep bees calm. Over-smoking bees is a common beginner’s mistake.

“Very little is needed,” he said. “You just need a puff.”

“The secret is keeping them calm,” Kraft added. “If they start to get agitated give them another puff. Don’t let them get agitated. Once they do, they won’t calm down.”

Another common mistake made by beginners, Kraft said, is not paying attention to tray spacing in the hive. He said the trays must be 5/16ths of an inch apart. Anything more and they won’t set a comb. Anything less and they’ll seal it like a crack “and it’s like cement.”

Attending the Jan. 7 meeting was Raegan Welander, 15, of Rockwell City. She was accompanied by her parents, Kyle and Sheila Welander, of Rockwell City, and her grandfather, David Welander, of Pomeroy.

The elder Welander has been keeping bees for four years, going through Kraft’s first class. He will sharing his experiences with his granddaughter, who wants to start a hive as an FFA supervised agricultural experience project. Her parents were there to learn as well. She plans to use her grandfather’s honey harvesting equipment.

David Welander, a retired farmer, said he keeps bees to pollinate his gardens and fruit trees – apple and cherry. He said he supplements the bees’ pollen needs by planting wildflowers.

“I’ve always been interested in bees,” David Welander said, “in their society and culture.”

Kraft said he kept bees as a high school student, but gave it up until six years ago.

He spoke about bees at a master gardeners’ event five years ago, where he met Yvonne McCormick, an Iowa State University Extension horticulturist, based out of the Hamilton County office.

A year later, Kraft and McCormick were conducting beginning beekeeping classes together.

McCormick said she encourages interested 4-H’ers to start bee projects.

“I hope to be doing this for many years to come,” Kraft said. “Bees are addictive. They are amazingly adaptive.”

“The more you work with them, the more you want to learn about them.”

A member of the Iowa Honey Producers Association, Kraft said that group has grants and scholarships available to qualifying youths wanting to start beekeeping, especially as 4-H or FFA projects.

The award is valued at $500, which includes a hive, a package of bees, a mentor and covering the cost of beginning beekeepers’ classes.

Youths who are successful with a hive with all the required record-keeping are allowed to keep the hive, Kraft said.

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