Ten-year-old Josie Schultz of Grand Forks was worried she would be too young to participate when she learned 4-H would be teaming with Grand Forks County Farmers Union to teach youth about beekeeping.
She had planned to attend the first meeting with her 14-year-old sister Kaela, who was also interested in the program.
“She gets to go to this meeting, and I guess I’ll sit there and read a book,” Schultz said.
She was ecstatic to learn it was for ages 10 and older.
“My mom (Andrea) has always wanted bees, and she was excited and wanted us to do it,” Josella said. “I was fine with that because I was really excited about it too,”
The program is headed by David Gorder, a GFCFU director who decided to tackle the project. Gorder said GFCFU handles the oversight, while director Paul Sproule donated the equipment and 4-H supplied the youth. Local part-time beekeeper Daniel Knight brings the experience.
“We thought it would be a good way to get youth more involved and more aware of North Dakota Farmers Union,” Gorder said. “But also, educate kids involved in agriculture and teach them something they can use later in life.”
The first meeting was in April, and Gorder said they had two “training sessions” before acquiring the bees.
“We met with the kids and taught them a lot before hand,” Gorder said. “Well, I shouldn’t say I taught them. Daniel taught them — I was learning along with the kids.”
Daniel and his father Paul haven’t been beekeeping long — they started three years ago — but Daniel has gained the experience needed to guide the project. He said he wasn’t sure about helping with the project at first, but quickly signed on.
“Once we started it, it seemed pretty cool,” he said. “The kids really love it.”
Before they can check on the bees to make sure they’re producing, everyone involved needs to be in a beekeeping suit. Then, Daniel uses a bee smoker to mask the alarm pheromones released by worker bees that signal harm to the hive. It allows the boxes to be checked while the hive is relatively calm.
With all the excitement, the kids sometimes get a little too eager, Daniel said.
“They’ll go running up to the hives and are ready to take the tops off,” he said. “I have to say, ‘Whoa! We’ve got to smoke them first.’”
Each column of boxes is a hive with a queen, Daniel said. Typically, the queen and the brood are in the first two boxes, he said.
Kaela Schultz said her first experience with the nucleus colony or “nuc” — which is the first box used to start the process — was memorable.
“We actually got to hold all the bees,” she said. “It was cool to feel them buzzing.”
Gorder said they intend to harvest the honey around Labor Day. The screens inside each box that are filled with honey will go into a fast-spinning machine that shoots the honey out.
The honey will be sold at a farmer’s market first before the kids go door to door to sell the remaining honey with all proceeds supporting GFCFU. Gorder said they hope to keep raising bees each year.
“This is a pilot program,” he said. “We want to make it better and continue doing it.”
That’s fine with Josella, who smiles from ear to ear when talking about the project.
“I look forward to selling and eating honey,” she said.
— Chris Aarhus, NDFU